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LIGHTNING (45-25-11) at HURRICANES (40-30-11)
TV -- NHL NETWORK-US (HD); SUN (HD); FS-Carolinas (HD)
Last 10 -- Tampa Bay 6-3-1; Carolina 8-1-1
Season series -- Both teams end their regular season as they meet for the sixth and final time. They've alternated victories, beginning with the Lightning's 5-1 win at home on Dec. 20.
Big story -- The Hurricanes took command of the race for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference on Friday by routing the Thrashers 6-1 in Atlanta. Carolina will know well before the puck drops at the RBC Center what it has to do to make the playoffs -- if the New York Rangers win their afternoon game against New Jersey, it will take a victory to beat out the Rangers for the last spot.
Lightning -- Tampa Bay delighted the home fans Friday by beating Florida 4-2 to break the 100-point mark for the first time since 2003-04, when the Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup. They're assured of finishing fifth in the East and will play Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the opening round -- a terrific season for a team with a new GM and coach that hadn't made the playoffs since 2007.
"I'm very pleased and proud with what we've done here,'' coach Guy Boucher said after the Bolts beat Florida. "We're only in Year 1 of our plan, and you talk about accelerating a plan.
"This is definitely accelerating it.''
Carolina -- The Canes brought their "A" game at the right time -- they jumped on the Thrashers early and never took the foot off the gas. Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole gave Carolina a 2-0 lead just 6:15 into the game, and the Hurricanes never looked back.
Ironically, it was the Thrashers who opened the door for the Canes by winning 3-0 in New York on Thursday.
"We're in control of our own fate," said goalie Cam Ward, who lost his bid for back-to-back shutouts when the Thrashers scored in the final minute. "Certainly it is not over. Tomorrow will be a big day for us."
Who's hot -- Lecavalier has 6 goals and 6 assists in his last 10 games, including two goals against the Panthers. Martin St. Louis has an eight-game points streak and has set a career-high with 66 assists. … Rookie Jeff Skinner has goals in his last two games and 7 points in his last five. Ward is 5-0-1 in his last six games, allowing just nine goals.
Injury report -- For the Lightning, defenseman Randy Jones (high ankle sprain) is out. Fellow defenseman Victor Hedman (lower body) is questionable. Boucher may opt to rest some of his veterans with nothing on the line for his team. … Carolina's Jay Harrison (lower body) is day-to-day.
Stat pack -- Carolina is 14-5-2 in its last 21 meetings against Tampa Bay. … Ward is 16-10-2 with a 2.88 GAA in 29 appearances against Tampa Bay.... Tampa Bay's Simon Gagne has six of his 16 goals this season against Carolina.
Puck drop -- The Canes will know well before the opening faceoff what they need to do to make the playoffs -- the Rangers-Devils game begins at 12:30 p.m. ET. They're expecting to have to bring home two points.
"Nothing has really changed," coach Paul Maurice said. "Tomorrow night is the one we're focusing on. It will be a challenge for us."
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