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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Monday, December 20th (All times eastern)

Carolina Hurricanes (15-12-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (18-10-4), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Hurricanes got excellent production from team leaders Eric Staal and Cam Ward over the weekend to extend their season-best winning streak to four games. The duo has also given the Lightning headaches over the past few seasons.

Carolina opens it season series with Southeast Division-rival Tampa Bay this evening at St. Pete Times Forum, where the Lightning will be looking to extend their best start in franchise history.

The Hurricanes and Lightning split their six-game series last year, with Tampa Bay winning two of three at home. Carolina, though, swept the season series in 2008-09 and has wins in 10 of 13 and 12 of the past 16 meetings overall. The 'Canes have also won four of their last six at the Forum.

Behind Staal's 12th career hat trick that came inside of the game's first 22 minutes, Carolina defeated Anaheim, 4-2, on Saturday to extend its longest winning streak since a seven-game burst from Feb. 5-March 4. Cam Ward was solid with 43 saves, giving him 88 stops over his last two games.

"He's been real solid for us," Staal said of Ward. "When we've needed him to make the saves he has. ... He's one of the best in the league."

Ward is 8-2-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average in his last 10 versus the Lightning, while Staal has nine goals and 15 points in his last eight against them. That includes career bests of four goals and six points in a victory on March 7, 2009 in Tampa.

While the Hurricanes have won three straight on the road, the Lightning have won five of their past six as the host and will be looking to wrap a three- game homestand tonight perfect. Tampa Bay picked up a 3-1 victory over Buffalo on Saturday and its 40 points on the season (18-10-4) is the best start through 32 games in club history.

Steven Stamkos notched his fourth goal in four games to go along with an assist and Martin St. Louis scored and set up two other goals as the Lightning picked up their third straight win overall. Simon Gagne also scored and Mike Smith made 22 saves.

"I told them after the game that I was real proud of them," Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. "Those tight games, those are the ones we want. The blowouts, you don't learn much from. By the end, if you want to win a championship, these are the kind of games you have to go get and we did that."

While Smith could earn a third straight start this evening after posting 49 saves over two victories, he is 0-6-3 with a 3.29 GAA lifetime when facing the Hurricanes. Dan Ellis has faced them just once before, notching a 24-save victory on Nov. 23, 2008 while with Nashville.

Stamkos, second in the league with 25 goals and 46 points, has just one goal and three helpers in 11 career games versus the Hurricanes.

12/20 10:53:30 ET

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