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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Friday, October 7th (All times eastern)

Tampa Bay Lightning (0-0-0) at Carolina Hurricanes (0-0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - After making a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to get off to a good start in 2011-12 when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at RBC Center in the season opener for both teams.

The Lightning named legendary NHLer Steve Yzerman as its new GM in May of 2010 and the former longtime Detroit captain hit a home run with his selection of Guy Boucher as the club's head coach.

Boucher had an amazing rookie season as an NHL bench boss in 2010-11, leading the team to 103 points and within one victory of the Stanley Cup Finals. Tampa's season ended with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to eventual champions Boston in Game 7 of the East finals.

The Lightning are led on offense by 21-year-old Steven Stamkos. The top overall pick of the 2008 draft, Stamkos has turned in an incredible first three seasons as an NHLer, compiling 100 goals and 97 assists in his first 124 games.

Also, the club still has veteran forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis at their disposal. Both players were integral in helping Tampa Bay win its one and only Stanley Cup title in 2004, and Lecavalier and St. Louis hope another championships is in the cards this year.

Goaltender Dwayne Roloson also played a huge part in getting the Lightning to the conference finals last spring, and is back for a full season in Tampa. Although he'll turn 42 years of age on Wednesday, the Lightning are expecting big things from Roloson in 2011-12. He began last year with the dismal New York Islanders, but was dealt to Tampa Bay on New Year's Day.

Roloson appeared in 34 games for the Lightning during the regular season and solidified the goaltending position after both Mike Smith and Dan Ellis had failed to do so. Roloson was 18-12-4 with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average for the Lightning down the stretch and played even better in the playoffs. He compiled a 10-6 mark to go with a 2.51 GAA and .924 save percentage in 17 postseason games.

While Tampa is a team on the rise, the Hurricanes have missed the postseason in each of the past two years. Carolina has also made the playoffs just once in five seasons since winning its only Stanley Cup in 2006.

The Hurricanes do have a terrific top centerman in Eric Staal and the club also boasts young winger Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie last year. The seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft is still only 19, but he made the jump from juniors to the NHL look easy last year, finishing second on the team in goals (31) and points (63) while skating in all 82 games.

With no earth-shattering additions to the club's scoring power this offseason, the Hurricanes will likely need Skinner to at least duplicate last year's numbers if they are to be a postseason threat in 2011-12.

Goaltender Cam Ward is another of Carolina's assets. Ward was a rookie when Carolina won it all in 2006, and while he's never quite reached the heights of that Conn Smythe-winning spring, at 27 years old he should be entering his prime.

After battling back issues that limited him to just 47 games in 2009-10, Ward set a career mark last year with 74 games. He went 37-26-10 with a 2.56 goals- against average and an excellent .923 save percentage.

Ward is 16-11-2 with a 2.93 GAA in 30 career outings against Tampa Bay. Roloson is 5-6-0 with a 2.84 GAA in 13 appearances versus the Hurricanes.

Tampa Bay has won the last two and three out of the last four against the Hurricanes. The Lightning have also won two in a row and three out of four in Carolina, but the Hurricanes have posted nine wins in their last 12 home games in this series.

10/07 10:48:36 ET


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