The Southeast Division rivals will try to begin a late run at the expense of each other Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Hurricanes (30-34-8) seem unlikely to be able to overcome a 5-17-5 start to reach the playoffs. They are tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight points behind eighth-place Boston with 10 games remaining.
Carolina earned back-to-back overtime wins over Washington and Pittsburgh last week, but could not defeat a third straight division leader and fell 5-3 to Buffalo on Sunday.
“We were short on steam, I thought,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Not necessarily effort, even though maybe there were times it looked like it. They were coming back to the bench heaving pretty good. We had just gone through a pretty emotional week here and a physical test (against Pittsburgh).”
Carolina earned just two points in its last four home games, but has picked up 11 in its previous seven road contests. The Hurricanes won all three games at Tampa last season but lost 5-2 in their most recent visit Oct. 10.
On the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight season, the Lightning (28-32-12) are also eight points behind Boston with 10 games left. Five consecutive regulation defeats and a 2-11-1 record since Feb. 10 may have sunk Tampa Bay’s chances.
“It’s an 82-game schedule. When 82 games are done, the good teams survive,” coach Rick Tocchet said following a 5-2 loss to Florida on Sunday. “You can’t play good for 40 or average for 40.”
A lack of offense is mostly to blame for the current skid, as Tocchet’s club has scored seven times over the past five games. Vincent Lecavalier(notes) (three goals, one assist) and Steve Downie(notes) (two goals) have accounted for most of the production during that span.
Team points leader Martin St. Louis(notes) has no goals in seven games and has recorded two assists during the losing streak. Steven Stamkos(notes), third in the league with 43 goals, scored in the third period Sunday to snap a five-game drought.
Stamkos has two assists in nine games against Carolina, one of five teams he has yet to score a goal against and the only one from the Southeast Division.
Ryan Malone(notes) has been much more successful against Carolina, recording seven goals and an assist in his last seven matchups and notching his third career hat trick Oct. 10. However, he has not scored in 15 games.
After losing eight in a row to Carolina, Tampa Bay has won two of the past three meetings, taking the most recent one 3-2 on Jan. 18.