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Behind Enemy Lines: Banged-up Lightning face Hurricanes, try to hold their position

Without Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop, the Lightning are doing what they can to tread water in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight in Tampa at 7:00. The Lightning are just one point ahead of the Hurricanes in the wild card standings but have played two more games than the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes need this win to secure two points in the standings and end 2016 with a bang.

The Hurricanes are fresh off a 3-2 win against the Western Conference leading Blackhawks last night in PNC Arena, extending their home point streak to 11 games (10-0-1). The Lightning suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last outing on Wednesday, and are 4-4-2 in their last ten games.

The Lightning currently rank among the top ten in goals for, despite Steven Stamkos being sidelined with a torn meniscus for an extended period of time. The “Triplets” (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov) have combined for 70 points so far this season in Stamkos’ absence with Kucherov leading the way with 33.

Johnson missed the morning skate today due to an illness, but Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after practice that he expects Johnson to play tonight.

This will be the second of three meetings between the two teams this season. The Hurricanes won the last match-up 1-0 in overtime after Phil Di Giuseppe dangled from the right circle and beat Ben Bishop blocker side. Neither player will be involved; Di Giuseppe is back in Charlotte, while Bishop suffered a lower-body injury just before Christmas and is on injured reserve.

Storylines

  • The two teams make for a very interesting special teams matchup. The Hurricanes still lead the league on the penalty kill at 90.7%. Meanwhile, the Lightning rank third on the power play at 22.6%. The Canes killed all five penalties against them the last time the two teams met.
  • The Canes hold the edge in net as Cam Ward has recorded a 2.26 goals against average and a .917 save percentage while Andrei Vasilevskiy has registered a 2.57 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. Vasilevskiy has only faced the Hurricanes once, a 4-3 win in Raleigh last November.
  • If he plays tonight, it will be Ward’s 43rd career appearance against the Lightning, his most against any team. He is 20-18-3 in his previous appearances, second only to his 24 wins against the Jets/Thrashers franchise in his career.
  • Jeff Skinner has recorded 15 points in his career against the Lightning. Skinner is due for a big game as he has just one goal in his last five games.