By Brian LeBlanc
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
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Two nights ago in Buffalo, the Hurricanes' eight-game point streak came to an end in a sloppy 4-3 loss to the Sabres. Tonight, they look to start a new streak with the Tampa Bay Lightning in town. The Lightning, for their part, lost a wild game 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils last night, their second straight loss to the team in the Eastern Conference basement. Needless to say, they'll be a fired-up bunch tonight.
Since the Canes and Lightning met last, a 5-1 Lightning win on December 21, the Lightning have significantly upgraded their goaltending by adding the ageless Dwayne Roloson, who will be in net tonight, from the New York Islanders. The Lightning have made a statement that they're a team to be reckoned with, jumping out to a two-point lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division while surprising nearly everyone along the way.
Just as surprising is the performance of the Hurricanes, facing a murderous first-half schedule yet still in sniffing distance of a playoff spot. The Canes made one roster move since Thursday's game, sending Zac Dalpe back to Charlotte and inserting Sergei Samsonov into the lineup after a healthy scratch on Thursday night. Cam Ward will be back in net tonight, as he will likely be in each game up through the All-Star break in two weeks.
We'll be otherwise occupied for most of tonight, so the blog entries might be a bit lighter than usual. However, you can always head to Twitter (http://twitter.com/puckdrops) for the latest and greatest...
End 1st: The Lightning had most of the solid play for long stretches of the first period, but somehow the Canes go to the locker room tied at 2 and if it wasn't for a bad defensive play by Joe Corvo they'd be in the lead. The Lightning opened the scoring with a Steven Stamkos goal 1:44 into the game, where he got loose behind the Canes defense and fired a shot through Ward's five-hole to put the Lightning on top. However, three minutes later Chad LaRose left the penalty box and earned a breakaway from the blue line in, beating Roloson with a backhand roofer.
The Canes got some good chances immediately after the LaRose goal, but slowly the Lightning started taking play back to the Canes' end of the ice. Cam Ward was sharp, and at one point the Canes were being outshot 12-3 while generally being outskated all over their offensive zone. They were also rather undisciplined, taking three penalties including a rather questionable charging penalty to Zach Boychuk that really earned the ire of the home crowd.
With 2:37 to go in the period, Jeff Skinner took advantage of an open net on a broken play for his 16th of the year to put the Canes in front and give them the chance to take a completely improbable lead into the locker room. However, with :23 left in the period Vincent Lecavalier established some separation behind Corvo and tipped a pass home from Martin St. Louis to tie it again at 2 heading to the locker room.
End 2nd: For a team that was outshot 13-5 in the first period, the Canes certainly turned things around in the second, piling 19 shots en route to taking a 5-3 lead after two. It started ominously for Carolina with a goal early in the period by Simon Gagne, who beat Ward on a broken play only 1:02 into the period.
After that, though, the Canes turned on the afterburners. It started with a Jamie McBain goal off a rebound from an Eric Staal shot, continued with a go-ahead goal from Jussi Jokinen on a 5-on-3 after the Lightning were whistled for two penalties in nine seconds, and continued with Eric Staal scoring shorthanded off a Cole setup after Roloson misplayed the puck and the Lightning bobbled the puck in their own zone.
A late LaRose tripping penalty didn't earn anything for the Lightning and they went to the locker room with a 5-3 deficit, and the Canes will have a chance to improve on their 13-0 record when leading after two periods with a solid third.
End 3rd/Postgame: The Lightning made things interesting with a Gagne breakaway goal halfway through the period, but the Canes held on for a 6-4 victory after Jussi Jokinen iced it with an empty-netter with seven seconds left. Gagne's goal was a classic bad bounce, as the puck bounced over Jamie McBain's stick at the blue line and sprung the Lightning forward on a breakaway from the red line that he didn't miss on. The Canes were back on their heels for a few minutes in the period, especially after Gagne's goal, but Cam Ward shut the door and kept the Lightning from getting any closer.
The Lightning pulled Roloson for the extra attacker with 1:38 to go, but a few seconds later their man advantage came to a quick end when Stamkos was called for interfering with LaRose's bid at the empty net. Stamkos earned a holding penalty, then he received an unsportsmanlike-conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for vehemently protesting to referee Francois St.-Laurent. The Canes took care of business the rest of the way, improving to 14-0 when leading after two periods.
Eric Staal passed Rod Brind'Amour for first place in points since the Canes' relocation, despite playing 172 fewer games than the former captain. It was a night of milestones, as Cam Ward tied Arturs Irbe's club record of games played since relocation, while defenseman Jay Harrison played his 100th career game, a testament to how his game has considerably improved over the last few seasons.
Click for audio from Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen. Paul Maurice's press conference is attached.
The Canes head to Boston for a Monday matinee with the Bruins before returning to Raleigh for the back half of the back-to-back against the Bruins on Tuesday. We'll be back, along with a more normal live blog, Tuesday night, and hope you'll join us as well.