Hurricanes-Lightning Preview

Since Steven Stamkos came into the league two seasons ago, he’s

generally come up short against the Carolina Hurricanes. Eric

Staal, meanwhile, has dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning in those

games.

The two high-scoring centers meet for the first time this season

Monday night when the surging Southeast Division rivals open their

six-game season series.

Carolina (15-12-4) has won four straight and Tampa Bay (18-10-4)

three in a row heading into their first meeting. The Hurricanes

went 3-2-1 against the Lightning last season after winning all six

matchups the season before when Stamkos was a rookie.

Stamkos is second in the league with 25 goals behind Sidney

Crosby, and he’ll be playing on a night when the first 5,000 fans

will be given his bobblehead.

However, Stamkos has just one goal and three assists in 11 games

against the Hurricanes. He’s got at least six goals and 11 points

against every other Southeast rival.

The Lightning, meanwhile, have been unable to slow down Staal

over the last two seasons. The Hurricanes top scorer has 11 goals

in that span against Tampa Bay for his highest total against any

team to go along with six assists.

Both centers turned in strong efforts in their last games.

Staal had the 12th hat trick of his career and second of the

season Saturday in a 4-2 win over Anaheim. His 33 points are 10

more than any teammate.

“Staal has the ability to take the game over,” goalie Cam Ward

said. “He really picked up his play when we were down one goal and

put the team on his shoulders. There’s a reason why he’s one of the

more dominant players in the league, and you got to see it.”

Stamkos had a goal and an assist Saturday in a 3-1 victory at

Buffalo, giving him six points in his last four games.

Tampa Bay is 5-2-1 in its last eight, including four one-goal

wins.

“I think we’re taking pride the last couple weeks in our

defensive play,” Stamkos said.

The Lightning rotate Dan Ellis and Mike Smith in goal. Ellis won

his lone career start against Carolina with Nashville in 2008 while

Smith is 0-5-3 with a 3.30 goals-against average in eight starts

against the Hurricanes.

Ward, meanwhile, is the clear No. 1 for Carolina, going 2-0-1

with a 1.83 GAA in his last four starts. He’s 10-4-0 with a 2.06

GAA in his last 14 starts against the Lightning.

“When we have needed (Ward) to make the saves, he has,” Staal

said. “He’s one of the best in the league, and we expect that every

night, and take it for granted some nights.”

Ward and the Hurricanes may have to worry more about Martin St.

Louis than Stamkos. St. Louis has six points in his last four

games, and eight in his last seven versus Carolina.

The winger had a goal and two assists Saturday for Tampa Bay,

5-0-1 in its last six at home.

Carolina last won five straight during a seven-game run Feb.

5-March 4.