The Carolina Hurricanes are in position to make a little history on Saturday night.
Coming off a decisive win over a division leader, the Hurricanes will try to cap their first season sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning when the Southeast Division rivals meet Saturday night at St. Pete Times Forum.
After splitting eight games last season with an unbalanced schedule, Carolina (34-27-5) has won all five matchups from Tampa Bay in 2008-09 by a 16-10 margin. The last time the franchise swept the Lightning in a season set was 1996-97 when Hartford won all four games.
The Whalers left Connecticut the following season.
Not surprisingly, Carolina’s biggest star is also the biggest reason for the success against its division rival. Eric Staal has scored four of his team-high 28 goals this season - including two game-winners - versus the Lightning (21-31-13).
Staal, looking to reach 30 goals for the fourth consecutive season, has scored in each of his last two matchups against Rick Tocchet’s club. Staal, though, has just seven goals in 17 career games at Tampa Bay.
Adding this season’s squad to the record books could be easy for Carolina based on its recent play.
The Hurricanes scored three first-period goals on Friday en route to a 6-1 rout of Northwest Division-leading Calgary. Ray Whitney recorded the first of his three power-play goals and Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole also found the back of the net in a 3:31 span against Flames backup Curtis McElhinney.
Whitney also scored in the second and his third-period tally was the 300th of his career.
“I’ve been bought out twice, on waivers twice,” said Whitney, now in his 17th season. “I’ve seen it all, that’s for sure, so 300, I’ll take that. Probably a lot of people didn’t think that would happen, myself included.”
Whitney leads the Hurricanes with 56 points, and is second with 21 goals. He has two goals and four assists in a three-game point streak at Tampa.
Since being limited to a total of one goal in back-to-back losses Feb. 12-14, Carolina has scored 36 times while going 7-3-0. That’s helped push the Hurricanes into a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, but left them only two points behind fifth-place Montreal.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, looks to avoid its fifth loss in six games before heading out on a three-game road trip next week.
“You’re just looking for certain guys to keep working,” Tocchet said. “There are a lot of jobs on the line.”
St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are Tampa Bay’s top two scorers with 64 and 60 points, respectively, but neither has fared well against Carolina.
St. Louis has a goal and assist, but has failed to show up on the scoresheet in the last three games. Lecavalier has been held without a point in his last two games after notching two goals and an assist in his first three.