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Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:47 AM

Associated Press

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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes missed an opportunity to clinch the Southeast Division in their last game, but another loss could be even more costly in their pursuit for a return to the postseason.

The slumping Hurricanes hope to regain sole possession of the division lead and salvage a split of the season series with the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning when the teams meet at the RBC Center on Wednesday.

Carolina (42-32-6) went 14-3-1 from Feb. 12-March 20 to surge to the top of the Southeast, opening a seven-point lead over Washington after that stretch.

The Hurricanes have since lost three of four games, and Tuesday's 4-1 defeat at Washington moved the Capitals into a first-place tie in the division.

Cam Ward made 35 saves for Carolina, which failed to win its second division title in three seasons and lock up the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

"We just need to move on," forward Erik Cole said.

The Hurricanes, who haven't lost three straight since a four-game skid from Jan. 10-17, won't have much time to dwell on Tuesday's defeat as they continue to focus on returning to the playoffs two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06.

Carolina holds the tiebreaker advantage with one more victory than Washington, which sits one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Both teams have 90 points with two regular-season games remaining against the same opponents, Tampa Bay and Florida.

"You have to assume they will win both of theirs," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "We have to win both of ours."

Despite boasting one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, the Hurricanes have just two goals in their last two games. Eric Staal, Carolina's leader with 36 goals and 79 points, looks to regain his scoring touch after being held without a point the last two games.

Staal has three goals and three assists in seven games this season, and 13 goals and 25 points in 29 all-time contests versus Tampa Bay (31-39-9).

One reason why the Hurricanes are battling for a playoff berth at this late stage is their 3-4-0 record this season against the Lightning, who own the worst record in the East.

The teams meet for the second time in five days, following Carolina's 2-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Ward made 19 saves to improve to 3-3-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average in six games against the Lightning in 2007-08.

He is 12-4-1 with a 2.31 GAA in his last 17 overall starts, but has been tough to beat at home, going 11-1-2 with a 2.09 GAA in 15 starts at the RBC Center since Jan. 29.

Tampa Bay is a league-worst 11-21-6 on the road, where it has lost three straight and nine of its last 10.

The Lightning concluded their home campaign with a 2-0 loss to Atlanta on Monday.

"(The season) has got to come to an end at a certain point," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "I think (Monday night) symbolizes, to me, a lot of what's happened this year where we played hard for most of the game and we don't capitalize. (Then) the other teams score late in the third and they win the game."

Vincent Lecavalier, who leads the Lightning with 40 goals and 90 points, is without a point in four of his last five games.

He has six goals and 11 points in seven games against Carolina this season. In 53 career contests, he has 11 goals and 51 points - his most against any opponent.

2007-2008 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Apr 02 '08 TBL 2 at CAR 6 C. LaRose
Mar 29 '08 CAR 1 at TBL 2 J. Halpern
Mar 01 '08 TBL 1 at CAR 5 J. Corvo
Dec 22 '07 CAR 4 at TBL 1 R. Whitney
Dec 06 '07 CAR 1 at TBL 2 M. St. Louis
Nov 23 '07 TBL 3 at CAR 4 G. Wesley
Nov 14 '07 CAR 1 at TBL 6 V. Lecavalier
Nov 08 '07 TBL 5 at CAR 1 S. O'Brien