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Legace to start: Hurricanes @ Lightning, Game Day Preview

The Carolina Hurricanes are in Tampa tonight to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, which will be the Hurricanes' last Southeast Division game of the season. Both teams were eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, so the stakes may be more individual as Steven Stamkos remains in a tight race with League uberstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for the "Rocket" Richard Trophy for most goals in a season. The 20-year old centerman was the #1 overall draftpick by the Tampa Bay franchise in 2008, and is nearing the 50-goal mark in his sophomore season, with a team that has struggled, garnering the Canadian attention across the hockeyworld for his breakout statistics. Before tonight's game, Stamkos has netted 46 goals, as has Ovechkin, while Crosby is at 47.

According to our colleagues at SBN's Lightning site "Raw Charge", Antero Niittymaki will be the starter in goal for the Bolts. The Hurricanes tweeted that Manny Legace will be given the start for this game, his first since that last minute loss to the Ottawa Senators which ended in a shootout last Thursday. This has the potential to be the veteran netminder's last start for the Hurricanes, with his contract expiring at the end of this season. The Hurricanes' GM Jim Rutherford indicated recently that he is not certain if Legace, or youngster Justin Peters, now down with the AHL playoff-bound Albany River Rats will get the back-up position to Cam Ward next fall.

Hurricane Goalie #34 GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Manny Legace 27 1447 10 7 67 2.78 734 667 .909 1

Lightning Goalie #30 GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Antero Niittymaki 47 2572 20 18 119 2.78 1333 1214 .911 1

 After the jump, a few links on the teams, plus audio from Coach Paul Maurice after practice this morning.

The Series

The teams have faced each other 5 times this season. Tampa Bay has won both games played in Florida, and beat the Canes their last 2  by a score of 3-2. The Hurricanes won 2 of the 3 games played in Raleigh. The most recent outing March 23rd in Tampa featured a highlight reel goal by Martin St. Louis, splitting Brett Carson and Joni Pitkanen 1-on-2, to win it in overtime, 29 seconds into the extra frame. Legace was in goal that night as well. 

For the Hurricanes

Paul Maurice spoke to media after the skate in Tampa this morning and you can hear his comments here.

Jussi Jokinen was acquired from the Lightning in February 2009 and his contributions this year were highlighted in a feature in today's News & Observer. Jokinen fits with Canes - A little more than a year after he was traded by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen is having the season of his career.

Jokinen is one goal shy of his 30th on the season, having already surpassed all previous marks in his NHL career.

No updates are available yet on how the lines will be put together after a great deal of shuffling by Maurice in an ugly and uninspired loss to the New Jersey Devils 4-0 in Raleigh Saturday.

UPDATE: According the Hurricanes site, the depth chart shows that the top 2 lines will be as follows:

Jokinen - Staal - LaRose

Whitney - Sutter - Cole

The 3rd and 4th line are listed as they have been the last few games:

Boychuk - Dwyer - Bowman

Samsonov - Brind`Amour - Kostopoulos 

The injury status for Carolina remains the same as last game with Tuomo Ruutu (shoulder) , Tim Gleason (foot) , and newcomer Alexandre Picard (hand)  scratched with injuries. None of them is expected to play again this season.

For the Lightning

With playoff hopes gone, and more than a little tired of the teams' recent history finishing at the bottom of the standings and earning a top-tier draftpick (according to one blogger at least), the highest priority for the Lightning players tonight may be assisting Stamkos to reach that 50 goal mark. Said Lightning Head Coach Rick Tocchet recently: "If I’m on a two-on-one with Steven Stamkos , trust me, I want to give him the puck. I’d be passing it as soon as possible. Maybe at center ice I’m giving it to him. But that’s just because he’s a dangerous guy. He’s a heck of a shooter."

More on this from the local paper this morning: Steven Stamkos' quest for 50 goals keeps interest in Tampa Bay Lightning season - St. Petersburg Times TAMPA — Steven Stamkos said he would trade a 50-goal season for the playoffs in a minute.

The Lightning's last game was Friday night, hosting the New York Rangers, who themselves are in the hunt to make the cut for the postseason. Tampa gave up 4 goals in the first 15 minutes then, before losing by a final score of 5-0.

Steve Downie, often labeled as an agitator, was involved in a scary collision against the endboards in that game Friday, spearing himself in the abdomen with the butt of his stick. Though the stretcher was brought out while he lay on the ice tended to by trainers, he skated off with help, was checked out during the game at the hospital for internal injuries, and returned to play in the 3rd period. Downie is "hot" right now, with points in his last seven games.

According to, both Stamkos and Downie will be playing for Team Canada for the IIHF tournament in Germany in May. Report: Stamkos, Downie likely to play for Canada at Worlds

Other notable scorers: Martin St. Louis has 5 goals and 14 assists in his last 17 games. Stamkos has 21 goals, and 41 points in the last 31 outings. Franchise coverboy and team captain Vincent Lecavalier enters this game having scored 1 goal and adding just 3 assists in his last 7.

Injuries for the Bolts include last year's #2 overall pick Swedish Defenseman Victor Hedman. Power forward Ryan Malone has been listed day-to-day but is expected to play tonight.

Other worthy previews 

Hurricanes vs. Lightning - 04/06/2010 - NHL Official preview

Opening night and season blight: Lightning host Hurricanes (preview) - Raw Charge (They are so ready for baseball down there!) Gameday stats

The game starts at 7:30pm tonight. It will be broadcast by Fox Sports South in Hi-Def. The Canes Country "Open Game Thread" will be ready to roll at 7pm.