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The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes are the Eastern Conference's last two Stanley Cup champions and top two offenses, but the Southeast Division rivalry has been anything but even recently.
The Lightning have won six straight against the division-leading Hurricanes, a trend they hope continues as they visit Raleigh on Friday trying to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Tampa Bay has been perhaps the NHL's streakiest team this season, but the Lightning hope their recent struggles don't turn into another lengthy skid.
After starting 5-3-0, Tampa Bay (10-9-2) dropped six straight, then responded with a five-game winning streak. That run included 5-1 and 6-1 routs of the Hurricanes (12-7-3) after the Lightning won their last four against Carolina last season.
But Tampa Bay has now lost its last two, including a 2-1 home setback to the New York Rangers Wednesday. The Lightning - second only to Carolina in the East in goals per game - had scored at least three goals in eight straight games before getting shut down by New York and goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"I have no beef with the hockey club," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We just couldn't score a goal."
Vincent Lecavalier was held pointless in that game, snapping an eight-game multi-point streak for the 6-foot-4 center, who is among the league leaders with 34 points. Lecavalier has four goals and three assists in two games against Carolina this season, including a hat trick Nov. 14.
"You can't give a guy like that opportunities like that all night," Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore said that night. "He's going to score."
With Martin St. Louis (27 points), Vaclav Prospal (24) and Brad Richards (22), the Lightning are one of just three teams in hockey with at least four 20-point scorers.
Carolina has six, led by captain Rod Brind'Amour, who has 11 goals and 16 assists. But against Tampa Bay, the Hurricanes have mustered just two goals in two games while Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist stopped 68 of 70 shots.
The Hurricanes have also been struggling lately, losing three of their last four while averaging just 1.5 goals. Their power play - second in the league at 25.0 percent - scored three times Wednesday against Philadelphia, but still lost 6-3.
"The result is really frustrating," winger Justin Williams said. "We're going to go through lulls in the season, and we're in one now, and we need to come out real quick."
It was the penalty kill, among the worst in the league at 77.1 percent, that was the primary problem against Philadelphia, which also scored three power play goals and pushed five goals past Carolina goalie Cam Ward on just 25 shots.
"We did a few things right, but we had some breakdowns, some things that we can't have happen if we're going to win a lot of hockey games," center Matt Cullen said.
Erik Cole is set to rejoin the Hurricanes Friday after missing four games with a neck injury. He has three goals and nine assists in 14 games this season.
Tampa Bay's run against the Hurricanes includes four straight wins at the RBC Center.