Having been eliminated from playoff contention, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes are left to try to end this season as positively as they can. So far, both clubs are having some trouble accomplishing that modest goal.
The Lightning, though, have dominated this season's matchups with the Hurricanes and will go for their first series sweep Sunday night while trying to avoid a season high-tying sixth consecutive defeat.
Tampa Bay (17-23-4) is set to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and is so far heading meekly into the end of the season. The Lightning are 1-5-2 since April 6 and 0-3-2 in their past five games.
They've struggled mightily at killing penalties lately, allowing opponents to score power-play goals in each of the last six games while going 9 for 27 with the man advantage.
Tampa Bay gave up the go-ahead goal while down a man with 47 seconds left in Thursday's 3-2 loss to Montreal, but coach Jon Cooper was pleased with his team's effort in the finale to a four-game trip.
"I haven't been here that long, but that was the best game we've played from start to finish" said Cooper, who is 3-5-3 since replacing Guy Boucher. " Unfortunately, we're on the negative end of the score. But if you can play consistently the way we did, we're going to win more games than we lose."
The Lightning might have a good chance at a better result against the Hurricanes. Tampa Bay has outscored its Southeast Division rivals 18-4 over this season's four meetings and routed them 5-0 in the most recent matchup April 4 in Carolina. The Lightning won 4-1 in the only meeting in Tampa Bay this season on March 16.
The Hurricanes (17-24-3) don't appear poised for a different result as they're 2-15-2 since March 13. They've been outscored 73-36 over that stretch, which has come while starting goaltender Cam Ward has been out with a knee injury.
Justin Peters made a career-high seventh consecutive start and stopped 33 shots in Saturday's 5-3 home loss to Philadelphia. The defense hasn't made things easy on Peters, as the Hurricanes are allowing an average of 33.3 shots in their last seven games.
"That's what we have to learn is to be mentally ready every night," coach Kirk Muller said. "We didn't have that tempo that we should."
Carolina has also been outscored 20-9 during a 0-4-1 skid on the road and will have to face two players who are chasing the NHL points lead. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are both three points behind injured leader Sidney Crosby.
Stamkos and St. Louis each have a team-best five points in this season's series. Both players have totaled one goal and four assists.