Hurricanes-Lightning Preview


The Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes occupy the last two spots in the Southeast Division, but each team has seemed to find its stride of late.

Tampa hosts Carolina on Saturday evening in a matchup of teams gaining momentum.

The Hurricanes and Lightning suffered through extended losing streaks not long ago, but each are playing much better since. Carolina lost seven straight games from Nov. 23-Dec. 6, while Tampa Bay dropped five in a row from Nov. 28-Dec. 6.

Captain Eric Staal scored his second goal of the game 3:09 into overtime in a 4-3 victory over Toronto on Thursday, giving the Hurricanes (13-20-6) their third win in four games.

Staal, who also assisted on Zac Dalpe's third-period goal, had gone without a point in his last six games and without a goal in nine. He got some advice from his brother - Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal - prior to the game in order to help break out of his funk.

''He was the first one last night to say, 'Just start shooting. Start shooting from everywhere. Make it ugly,''' Eric Staal said. ''I talked to him on the way to the rink, and said, 'I'll be firing it from all angles, and we'll see what happens.'''

Staal didn't score in the first two meetings with Tampa this season, but coach Kirk Muller believes Thursday's performance could go a long way in getting him back on track.

''That is a big load off of him,'' said Muller, whose team has earned at least a point in seven of its last 10. ''I know it is just one game, but that is a huge game mentally for him.''

It's been quite the opposite for Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who followed up a two-goal performance in Tuesday's 5-1 win over Philadelphia with his league-leading 23rd goal to help beat Montreal 4-3 on Thursday.

Martin St. Louis had an assist to give him three goals and four assists during a six-game point streak.

Tampa Bay (16-17-3) improved to 4-1-1 over its last six games while hoping to recapture the form that brought the Lightning to within a victory of reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season.

''We're getting there,'' Stamkos said. ''We're finding ways to win games now, whereas before we were finding ways to lose games.''

Thursday's victory was Tampa's league-high fifth when trailing after two periods and improved it to 5-3-1 since its skid.

''Right now we're No. 1 in the league in comebacks after two periods, which is a testament to the players' character,'' coach Guy Boucher said. ''You'd like to be in position to be in the lead once in a while before the third. But it's extremely positive.''

St. Louis had a goal and an assist and Stamkos added a pair of assists in a 5-1 win over Carolina on Oct. 7. The Hurricanes responded with a 4-2 victory Nov. 1 behind two goals apiece from Chad LaRose and Jeff Skinner, who remains the teams leading scorer despite missing the last nine games with a concussion.

Cam Ward made 28 saves in the most recent meeting for the Hurricanes, marking the first time he allowed less than three goals in 10 starts versus Tampa. He's 4-5-1 with a 3.67 goals-against average in that stretch.

The Lightning have won four of the last six meetings at St. Pete Times Forum.