Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes game preview
Carolina just cooled off one of hockey’s top road teams, further growing its reputation as a tough home team to handle.
The Hurricanes will try to extend their season-best home winning streak Sunday night against Tampa Bay, but the Lightning have dominated this series recently and been a 5-on-5 force over their own mini-streak.
After a 5-2 win over streaking San Jose on Friday, the Hurricanes (27-22-10) are heading into the second of a three-game homestand seeking a fourth consecutive home win. They’ve gone 9-1-3 at home since the Christmas break, outscoring opponents by an average of 3.23 to 1.85 with a 93.1 percent penalty kill.
"It’s a big time of year," Jeff Skinner told the team’s official website. "Every game you come to the rink, those two points are big. Even tonight, playing a Western Conference team, those two points are just as important as when we’re playing anyone else in the league. It’s a good win. Those guys are a good team over there, a good road team. It’s big to get those two points, especially at this time of year."
Skinner scored twice and Jordan Staal scored for a third straight game while adding an assist to give him 22 points in 19 games after managing 15 through his first 40.
Eric Staal’s goal-scoring drought reached 15 games, but he at least notched an assist to end a seven-game span without a point.
"This is a fun time of year to be involved and to be playing," Eric Staal said. "We’re in the mix. We’ve put ourselves in that (position) and we’ve got to fight, we’ve got to win and we’ve got to pick up points every night."
That’s been the case for nearly two months with Cam Ward in goal. Carolina’s No. 1 hasn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 29, going 6-0-4 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .930 save percentage since the calendar flipped to 2016.
"He’s our guy," coach Bill Peters said. "We have a lot of confidence in (Ward and Eddie Lack), but we’re going to ride a guy, and it will be Cam."
Ward, however, has been peppered by Tampa Bay for more than six years now, going 6-10-2 with a 3.43 GAA and .895 save percentage, including four straight regulation losses. Among the 18 teams he’s faced at least 10 times in his career, his 3.00 GAA versus the Lightning is the highest.
One of those losses came Nov. 1 as Tampa Bay (31-22-4) opened the season series with a 4-3 win in Carolina as part of a 10-2-0 span against the Hurricanes.
The Lightning are coming off Saturday’s 4-2 win in Pittsburgh following a 6-5 shootout victory over Winnipeg, and they outscored those teams 9-3 at even strength.
"I didn’t think we gave them a whole lot," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "When we did give them something, it was either we were on a power play or it was 4-on-4. But other than that, I thought 5-on-5 we played pretty steady. We got the lead. We played D. That was pretty much it."
With that, however, comes a 0-for-10 power play as part of a 1-for-24 span, as well as two short-handed goals allowed in the last two games. The power play has been even worse on the road with one conversion in 41 chances dating to Dec. 6.
Individually, Steven Stamkos has scored in consecutive contests to get to 300 career goals, one of which came in November against Ward.
Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop is 5-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .950 save percentage in his career against Carolina.