NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, December 31st (All times Eastern)
Carolina Hurricanes (13-20-6) at Tampa Bay Lightning (16-17-3), 5 p.m.
(Sports Network) - The first half of the season has been a disappointment for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Bolts will try to close the 2011 calendar year with three straight victories when they host the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at St. Pete Times Forum.
The Lightning were one of the biggest surprises last season, when they came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, but Tampa wouldn't even be in the postseason if the season ended today.
However, Tampa Bay is coming off consecutive wins over Philadelphia and Montreal and will try to complete a perfect three-game homestand today. The Lightning haven't won three in a row since Nov. 4-9.
After slamming the Flyers by a 5-1 score on Tuesday, the Lightning were able to post a close regulation win Thursday against the Habs. Vincent Lecavalier netted the game-winning goal in the third period on Thursday, as Tampa rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Canadiens, 4-3.
Steven Stamkos, J.T. Wyman, and Marc-Andre Bergeron also scored, while Steve Downie contributed a pair of assists for the Lightning. Mathieu Garon made 31 stops for the victory.
"We still have some things to work on," said Stamkos, who is leading the NHL with 23 goals. "But we're finding ways to win games, whereas before we were finding ways to lose games. We did a lot of positive things and didn't panic."
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman missed the last game after suffering an upper body injury Tuesday against Philadelphia. He is not expected to play tonight.
Tampa Bay, which will head out on a three-game road trip after today's game, is 10-5-0 on home ice this year compared to a 6-12-3 road record.
The Hurricanes are seeded 14th out of 15 teams in the East, but the club has won three of its last four games, including a 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Eric Staal's second goal of the contest, a power-play marker coming with 1:51 left in OT, sent Carolina past the Leafs. Staal ripped a blast over the shoulder of Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer from the right circle off a cross-ice pass from Justin Faulk for the winner.
"I thought our whole line was playing good tonight," said Staal. "When I got the first one I felt good, the second one felt even better."
Staal ended a nine-game goal drought and now has nine markers on the season. Brandon Sutter and Zac Dalpe also found the back of the net for the Hurricanes, while Cam Ward stopped 21-of-24 shots for the victory. Carolina is now 5-7-2 since Kirk Muller took over as head coach for the fired Paul Maurice.
The Hurricanes are just 4-10-4 as the guest this year and will try to halt a four-game road losing streak tonight.
Carolina and the Lightning have split a pair of meetings this year, but tonight's test marks the first matchup in Tampa. The Bolts have won four of the last six encounters at the Forum.
12/31 10:32:20 ET