Lightning (26-14-5) at Hurricanes (21-16-6) at 7:00pm.
Its Divisional Game Day in the NFL, but Tampa Bay has a division game of their own to worry about. After a disappointing showing last night, the Lightning look to rebound quickly against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Hurricanes are another team in the Southeast Division who have turned their play around this season. They are fourth in the division, but only nine points behind the leading Lightning with plenty of time left in the season to close the gap.
The two teams have met once so far this season and will meet four more times after tonight. They played on December 20th at St. Pete Times Forum with the Lightning taking home a 5-1 victory. Steven Stamkos scored his 100th career goal during the game.
The Hurricanes have been on a surge as of late. Since December 28th, they have only lost one game in regulation, accumulating a 6-1-2 record. With All-Star Cam Ward leading in net, the Hurricanes have 2.77 GA per game, with Ward posting a shutout against Ottawa. Captain and fellow All-Star Eric Staal is currently riding a seven-game point streak with three goals and four assists in seven games.
The Hurricanes lost their last game on Thursday in Buffalo, and it will be important for the Lightning to get off to a quick start. Having played the night before, this needs to be a first-period game for the Lightning instead of a third-period game when they might not have energy left in the tank.
The Lightning defensive core will be challenged tonight. Carolina has averaged 3.89 goals per game in their last nine, with players like Staal, rookie Jeff Skinner, and Tuomo Ruutu all streaking. Tampa is going to need more than the two goals it got last night in order to win this battle, and they will have to shut down the Hurricanesâ€™ best weapons.
Offensively, Stamkos found his game again last night with a pure skill goal from just a few feet above the goal line. Hopefully he can carry that momentum into tonight. Martin St. Louis scored a simply ridiculous goal after going in all alone on Martin Brodeur. With the Capitals playing Ottawa on Sunday, the Lightning need to stay a step ahead with a key divisional win. Keeping Washington, Atlanta, and Carolina at bay is going to be hard, and that battle continues tonight.