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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Friday, March 25th (All times eastern)

Carolina Hurricanes (34-29-10) at Tampa Bay Lightning (39-23-11), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Carolina Hurricanes will continue their fight for a playoff spot tonight, when they visit the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum in the opener of a home-and-home series.

With 78 points, the Hurricanes are tied for ninth in the East standings with Toronto, and Carolina is three points in back of Buffalo for the conference's eighth and final postseason berth.

Carolina enters tonight having won two straight and the Hurricanes have taken three out of four since going through a four-game slide from March 4-12. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has lost three in a row and has just two wins in 11 games (2-5-4) this month.

As a result of the down month, the Lightning have fallen seven points behind Washington for first place in the Southeast Division. The Bolts are also fifth in the conference standings and two points ahead of sixth-seeded Montreal. Tampa is also five points in back of Pittsburgh for the East's fourth spot.

The Lightning have won two of three meetings with Carolina this year and Tampa has taken five of eight overall in the series. The Hurricanes have dropped four of their last five tests at the Forum.

The clubs will meet Saturday night in Raleigh before closing the season series -- as well as their regular seasons -- in Carolina on April 9.

Carolina last played on Tuesday, when the 'Canes recorded a close regulation win over Ottawa. Chad LaRose scored a pair of goals to lift the Hurricanes to a 4-3 decision over the Sens in the final test of a three-game homestand.

Tuomo Ruutu and Cory Stillman also tallied for the Hurricanes, while Cam Ward was solid between the pipes, stopping 36 shots.

Carolina captain and leading scorer Eric Staal has been hampered by a lower- body injury recently, but he is expected to play this evening. Staal is pacing the Hurricanes in both goals (29) and assists (36) this season.

The Hurricanes are also expected to get defenseman Jamie McBain on the ice at some point in this home-and-home series. The blueliner was supposed to be sidelined for 3-to-4 weeks after suffering a shoulder injury on March 11 against Washington, but he is now considered day-to-day.

The Lightning have lost their last three games (0-1-2) and were dealt a decisive loss Tuesday night against the visiting New York Islanders. Matt Martin scored the eventual game-winner in the second period and Al Montoya recorded 36 saves to lead the Isles to the 5-2 victory.

The game marked Dwayne Roloson's first test against his former club since a January trade sent him from the Isles to the Bolts. He gave up four goals on 27 shots.

Dominic Moore and Nate Thompson both scored for Tampa Bay.

"Everyone has to find a way to put together two points to get it going," Thompson said of the team's struggles. "We have to find a way to win together."

The Lightning could get a jolt of energy in their lineup tonight if winger Steve Downie is able to return from an ankle injury. Downie, who has 28 points and 146 penalty minutes in 48 games this season, is questionable after sitting out the last nine games.

Tampa is 22-10-5 as the host this season, while the Hurricanes are just 14-17-6 as the guest.

Roloson is 5-5-0 with a 2.72 goals-against average in his career against Carolina. Ward is 15-9-2 with a 2.88 GAA in 25 lifetime appearance versus Tampa.

03/25 10:51:42 ET

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