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Game Preview: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 2-23-13

It may be a little early to talk “must wins”, but tonight's match-up between the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning is certainly a game of consequence when it comes to the standings in the Southeast Division.

Jeff Skinner scores, Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, January 21, 2013
Jeff Skinner scores, Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, January 21, 2013
Jamie Kellner

Carolina Hurricanes vs Tampa Bay Lightning
February 23, 2012 - 7:00 pm EST
PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC
TV - Fox Sports South Radio - 99.9 The Fan
Tailgate forecast: Rain showers, High 51/ Low 41

SB Nation Lightning Blog: Raw Charge (twitter @RawCharge)

Hurricanes Record: 8-6-1 (17 pts.)
Lightning Record: 8-7-1 (17 pts.)

Tonight marks the second of five games this season between the Southeast Division rivals. Jeff Skinner scored the lone Hurricanes goal as the Lightning won handily, 4-1, on January 22nd to spoil the Hurricanes season home opener.

Both teams head into this game coming off home losses on Thursday night, the Lightning 4-2 losers at the hands of the Boston Bruins, while the Hurricanes came up short against the Winnipeg Jets in a 4-3 loss.

Hurricanes Notes

The Hurricanes are currently third in the Eastern Conference by virtue of their lead in the Southeast Division, but that position is precarious at best and a head-to-head loss against the Lightning tonight plunges them from third to ninth and below the playoff Mendoza line. Curiously, even though leading the division, they are 0-3-0 within the division season to date.

Defenseman Ryan Murphy had quite a debut Thursday night, seeing almost 24 minutes of ice time spent in all situations, including a crucial five-on-three penalty kill in the second period and a beautiful coast-to-coast play that led to a scoring opportunity. Murphy is only eligible to play with the Hurricanes for as long as there is a shortage on defense. Once any one of Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, or Jamie McBain returns to the line-up, Murphy must return to Kitchener. Gleason and Pitkanen both skated with the team on Friday, but their status for tonight is unknown until after this morning's skate.

Speaking of defensemen, Murphy's mentor and linemate Jay Harrison earned an assist in Thursday's game and leads the team in points by defensemen. The Canes are 4-1-0 when Harry registers a point.

Among the forward ranks, Jiri Tlusty remains red hot with two goals on Thursday (aided ever so slightly by his Russian linemate), marking his third multi-goal game this season. Tlusty has an impressive seven goals in his last six games.

On the forwards injury front, Tim Brent (groin) and Jeff Skinner (concussion) remain out along with Tuomo Ruutu (injured non-roster, hip).

It's not often that head coach Kirk Muller announces a goaltending decision in advance, but with two sub-par performances by Cam Ward in games against Montreal and Winnipeg, Muller announced yesterday that Dan Ellis will get the start tonight. While Ellis only has 2 starts against the Lightning (0-1-1 with a 2.98 GAA), he played in 31 games for the Lightning in the 2010-11 season so certainly familiar territory for him.

Lines from Friday's practice (subject to change if defensemen return):

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Drayson Bowman - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Andreas Nodl - Jussi Jokinen - Tim Wallace
Chad LaRose - Riley Nash/Jeremy Welsh - Kevin Westgarth

Joe Corvo - Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison - Ryan Murphy
Michal Jordan - Bobby Sanguinetti

Dan Ellis
Cam Ward

Lightning Notes

The Lightning's season has been a bit bi-polar so far. After winning six out of their first seven games in impressive fashion, the Lightning then lost six straight just as convincingly before things started to even out with two wins in their last three games to get to tonight's spot in the schedule.

Tampa Bay's fire power on offense is well-known to the Hurricanes and it will take a team defense to stop them. The Lightning lead the league with 3.81 goals per game, that's half a goal more per game than the next best team, the Chicago Blackhawks. All-stars like Steven Stamkos (24 points and points in four straight games), Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier always give the Canes fits when they come to town. They are joined by Cory Conacher, who leads all NHL rookies with 15 points.

Another key to the game for the Hurricanes will be (as always) to stay out of the penalty box. Tampa Bay is rather lethal in that regard, with the fifth best power play in the NHL (24%). That said, most of their success has been at home versus on the road (they're actually 28th in road power play goals scored), still it's probably not for the best to tempt fate in that regard.

No news to my knowledge as to who will start in net. The Lightning (like the Canes) are playing back-to-back games over the weekend and head to Pittsburgh tomorrow, so I suspect Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon will split responsibilities.

Anders Lindback - Season 7-4-1, 3.12 GAA, .895 SV%, versus Hurricanes 4-3-0, 2.93 GAA
Mathieu Garon - Season 1-3-0, 3.19 GAA, .911 SV%, versus Hurricanes 1-1-0, 3.03 GAA

The Lightning did not practice yesterday. Following are line combinations based on how the Lightning started the game against the Bruins Thursday night.

Cory Conacher - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell

Benoit Pouliot - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson - Alexander Killorn
B.J. Crombeen - Adam Hall - Richard Panik

Eric Brewer - Matthew Carle
Sami Salo - Victor Hedman
Brian Lee - Marc-Andre Bergeron

Anders Lindback
Mathieu Garon

Ryan Malone (lower body) is out of the Lightning line-up.

A Few Hurricanes Media Links

Kirk Muller Audio from Friday's practice
Hurricanes Notebook: Schedule Ramps Up - Hurricanes Tracking the Storm
Rink Report 2-22-13 (video from Jiri Tlusty and Patrick Dwyer) - CanesVision
Murphy not fazed in first NHL start - News and Observer
Long road to recovery worth it for Canes' Ellis - News and Observer
Alexander Semin proving to be wise investment for Hurricanes - CBS Sports

We'll start the game thread at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.