Lightning finding a bad time to take on Hurricanes?

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The Carolina Hurricanes are racking up numbers that suggest a special season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been doing that way for quite some time.

The teams meet Thursday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., a pair of Eastern Conference teams that have drummed up excitement.

The Lightning already have clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record with more than two weeks to play.

Yet there’s so much more to accomplish.

“What you do in the regular season doesn’t predict future success,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper recently told the media. “We’ve given ourselves every advantage to get to our ultimate goal.”

The Hurricanes are trending in the right direction, as well.

“I don’t know about the pressure, I don’t feel that at all,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters this week. “The guys are enjoying it. Obviously, the stakes are high, but it’s just a game. Our approach, I think has been the same.”

The Hurricanes certainly haven’t looked under pressure in opening a five-game homestand with consecutive victories against Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

“You’ve got to keep at it,” Carolina captain Justin Williams said. “You have to use every opportunity. … Our mistakes are from effort. Because of effort, we’re able to recover from it. We’re doing the right things and it’s really fun to play.”

The matchup against the Lightning comes at a time when the Hurricanes’ confidence is soaring.

“We want to play against the world’s best and you want to compete,” Williams said.

Tampa Bay won 5-4 in overtime Wednesday night at Washington behind a franchise-record 54 saves from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. That result pushed the Lightning’s winning streak to six games.

Coming off such an emotion-filled game, not to mention the workload placed on Vasilevskiy, the goaltender almost definitely will be the backup for Thursday night’s game. He became just the 11th goalie since 1955-56 to post multiple wins with 48 or more saves in the same season.

The Lightning has eight games remaining and there will continue to be a burning desire to stay sharp, Cooper said.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas,” he said. “We can’t exhale and not play the game the right way. Right now we’re still full-steam ahead.”

The outing in Carolina is Tampa Bay’s middle game in a three-game road trip. And the Hurricanes have reached the 20 / 20 mark — 20 wins on the road and 20 wins at home — for only the second time in franchise history. The other time came in the 2005-06 season, when they won the Stanley Cup.

It took Brind’Amour, a first-year coach, just 72 games to reach 40 wins, doing so in 10 fewer games than any previous coach in franchise history. He has the Hurricanes in playoff position, but his team senses it can’t afford a letdown if it wants to stay there.

“The last month has felt like the playoffs,” left winger Brock McGinn said. “Every game is really important.”

The Hurricanes have mostly found the best mix with a combination of goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, as each has come up with clutch performances recently.

“Everybody loves the two goalies,” McGinn said. “They’ve kept us in so many games.”

Tampa Bay has won two previous meetings this season with Carolina, both at home and both by two goals.

–Field Level Media

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