Hurricanes-Lightning Preview

The Associated PressDecember 21, 2013

While Steven Stamkos still remains sidelined, the Tampa Bay Lightning are otherwise getting closer to full strength.

They're also starting to put some wins together after a bit of a rough patch.

The Lightning try to stay hot Saturday night against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, who have struggled in this series of late.

Tampa Bay (21-11-3) has followed a 3-5-3 stretch by winning four of five, including three straight for the first time in almost six weeks. Defenseman Victor Hedman was one of 11 players to record at least one point in Thursday's 4-2 victory over Nashville, posting an assist in his first game back since missing six with a lower-body injury.

"Usually when we'd come off after a game there would be a whole row of suits," said coach Jon Cooper, whose team continues to play without Stamkos (broken leg) and Keith Aulie (fractured hand). "But now there's only a couple guys, so that's a good sign that we're getting our guys back."

Martin St. Louis scored his team best-tying 14th goal while Jean-Philippe Cote notched an assist in his first game since getting recalled from the AHL on Wednesday. Thursday also marked Cote's first NHL contest since an eight-game stint with Montreal in 2005-06.

"Whenever you have new guys in the lineup, especially Hedman on the power play, that's great," Alex Killorn, who had a goal and an assist, told the team's official website. "Cote brings a ton of energy and is a guy who works so hard and all that comes into play and helps a ton."

The Lightning improved to 15-1-1 when scoring first, among the best records in the NHL.

"We've been finding out in this league getting the lead is huge," Cooper said.

Tampa Bay, which has allowed four goals during its three-game winning streak, is 19-2-2 when allowing two or fewer.

"They're playing good hockey," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of Tampa Bay. "They play a real high-pace game."

The Lightning have also dominated the Hurricanes (14-14-7) since the start of last season, taking five of six meetings by a combined 23-7 score. Tampa Bay won 3-0 in Carolina on Nov. 1 behind goals from Hedman, Killorn and Stamkos.

St. Louis, who notched two assists in that game, has 36 points over a 25-game stretch in the series.

The Hurricanes are coming off Friday's 4-2 loss to Washington, dropping to 1-2-2 in their last five. Jordan Staal and Riley Nash both scored for Carolina, which outshot the Capitals 41-29 but allowed a season-high three power-play goals.

"Five-on-5, we were all over them," captain Eric Staal said. "We were the better team, 5-on-5. But three power-play goals, you can't let that happen. That's not good enough, obviously, and that's how you lose games."

Eric Staal, who has 19 points in his last 17 games despite coming up empty Friday, has just three in his last seven against the Lightning. The Hurricanes are 3-7-3 this season when he fails to record one.

Tampa Bay's Anders Lindback made 28 saves against Nashville, but Ben Bishop could be back in goal Saturday. Bishop ranks among the NHL leaders with 18 wins and a 1.96 goals-against average.

Bishop, 11-2-0 at home, has allowed two goals or fewer in eight consecutive games there. He's shut out Carolina in each of his two matchups in the series, making 31 saves last month and a career-high 45 in a 5-0 win April 4.