The struggles of goaltender Mathieu Garon and the Tampa Bay Lightning have contributed to them struggling to stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
Both, though, have looked like world-beaters against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Lightning seek their fourth win in as many games versus their Southeast Division rivals Thursday night.
Garon has been uneven in four games since Anders Lindback suffered a sprained ankle, going 2-0-1 with a 2.91 goals-against average. He made 23 saves Tuesday and allowed the lone shootout goal in a 3-2 home loss to Florida.
Tampa Bay (15-18-2) enters this game six points behind Winnipeg for the division lead and in 14th place in the East.
"It's a tough one," forward Tom Pyatt said after the Lightning outshot the Panthers 41-25. "I thought we did a lot of good things out there and I thought we deserved better."
Garon and the Lightning have been plenty better against the Hurricanes (16-17-2), with the netminder notching three of his five wins this season at their expense while posting a 1.34 GAA and .957 save percentage on 92 shots. Pyatt scored goals in each of the first two wins in helping Tampa Bay outscore Carolina 13-4.
With their goaltending in question, the Lightning acquired Ben Bishop from Ottawa prior to the trade deadline Wednesday for center Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick.
"I am extremely excited to be part of the Lightning organization," said Bishop, who was 8-5-0 with a 2.45 GAA and one shutout for the Senators. "They have a lot of great players and hopefully we can win a lot of hockey games this season and moving forward."
While the Hurricanes are two points ahead of the Lightning and third in the Southeast, they have faded with three points in their last 10 games (1-8-1). Carolina has dropped two in a row in regulation following Tuesday's 5-3 defeat to Washington that also extended its season-worst home losing streak to five games.
"You're still in there. We have to just stay focused," said Jiri Tlusty, who accounted for Carolina's offense by completing his first hat trick less than two minutes into the second period. "Focus is going to be a big key. We still have plenty of games left and we still have a big chance. We played a solid game tonight. It just didn't end up with the W."
That focus for the injury-riddled Hurricanes comes into play more after they learned defenseman Joni Pitkanen is out for the season after breaking his heel Tuesday night.
Fellow blue-liner Marc-Andre Bergeron, acquired from the Lightning earlier Tuesday to add depth, had an assist in his debut as the Hurricanes went 2 for 4 on the power play after converting seven times in 73 opportunities over their previous 22 games.
"That's what he does. He calms everything down," said Kirk Muller of Bergeron, whom he coached in Montreal during the 2009-10 season. "He's smart enough to know when to shoot and when to make plays. You need that quarterback back there and it runs that much smoother."
Carolina sent veteran center Jussi Jokinen to Pittsburgh in exchange for a conditional draft pick Wednesday but retained a portion of his salary, which is one of the new rules from the collective bargaining agreement signed following the lockout.
The Hurricanes have not lost six straight at home since an 0-4-2 stretch Oct. 14-Nov. 13, 2009.
The Associated Press News Service
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