The Tampa Bay Lightning (18-10-4, 2nd, Southeast Division) will finish their first extended homestand, all of three games, tonight against division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes (15-12-4, 4th, Southeast Division). The Lightning enter tonight's game on a 3-game winning streak and have caught the suddenly very-beatable Washington Capitals and trail the Atlanta Thrashers by a single point in the race for control of the Southeast Division. Even better news for the Bolts is they're getting healthier. Simon Gagne has suffered no ill effects from a neck injury that sidelined him earlier this season and Vincent Lecavalier is back after suffering a broken hand a few weeks ago. At this point, only forward Steve Downie is on the IR, nursing an ankle injury. For the Lightning to have weathered the barrage of injuries they suffered along with a brutal schedule that has put them on the road for 19 games, including two west coast trips, already this season, is a very good sign as the Christmas holiday approaches.
The Hurricanes are on a streak of their own right now, having won their last four games and six of their last ten. They remain on the outside of the playoff picture but with Washington's recent struggles, are almost in position to make things even more interesting in the Southeast. They're led offensively by Eric Staal who tallied a hat trick in Carolina's last game against Anaheim. Cam Ward is the primary netminder.
The Bolts head to Long Island on Wednesday to face the New York Islanders (6-18-6, 5th, Atlantic Division), current holders of the worst record in the NHL. This will be the third meeting this year between the teams. New York won in overtime at the St. Pete Times Forum back in October while the Lightning won in regulation in their previous visit to the Nassau Coliseum in November.
On Thursday, the Lightning will find themselves in Manhattan, taking on the New York Rangers (20-14-1, 3rd, Atlantaic Division). The rangers are 6-4 in their last ten games, having had a three game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in their last game. The two teams have met only once previously this season, with the Lightning coming out on top 5-3 at the St. Pete Times Forum just about a month ago.