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Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning: A preview of the ECF we need

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Two of the most fun teams in the league play tonight in Amalie.

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME #4

Time: 7:30 PM Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FSCR

Opponent SBNation Site: Canes Country

Preview:

The Carolina Hurricanes visit Amalie Arena tonight to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams are off to strong starts and this has the potential to be a fun early season matchup.

The Hurricanes are once again everyone’s favorite pick to finally have their breakout season. They have depth everywhere in their lineup except for, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, in net. All four of their forward lines are a threat, particularly with second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov currently wreaking havoc on the fourth line while he adjusts to the NHL. The second line centered by Jordan Staal has been one of the best in the league in terms of both shots and expected goals. They’ve been outright dominant. And we haven’t even gotten to the top line centered by Sebastian Aho who has emerged as the star Canes teams of the past lacked.

As good as the forward group is, the defense might be even better. A group that was already outstanding moved Noah Hanifin and brought in Dougie Hamilton. Hanifin is solid but Hamilton deserves to be in the Norris conversation. Adding him to a group that already include Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce gives the Canes one of the best blue line in the NHL. And oh yeah, they also signed Calvin de Haan to play on their second pair who happens to be probably the most underrated free agent of last summer.

The bugaboos for Carolina have always been shooting and goaltending. They struggled to finish and they struggled to get even average play in net. The shooting woes seem to be turning a corner. Aho is a finisher. He gives them a goal scoring threat. Two other youngsters, Martin Necas and Svechnikov, have the pedigree to indicate they can score goals. If they fulfill that potential, the Canes will get real scary real fast.

Even with all of the exciting talent on the ice for Carolina, the dark cloud of goaltending still hangs over the team. Scott Darling struggled last year after signing a big extension and he’s currently injured. The tandom of Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek is as underwhelming a duo as exists in the NHL. Mrazek may still have some upside and had a great game on Sunday against the Jets but even talking about him as a potential stopgap in net shows how desperate the situation is there.

So far this season, Carolina has been running teams out of the building. They are first in the league in shot share and second in expected goal share. The Lightning will need to be ready from puck drop or they could find themselves in trouble quickly. If they’re not careful, this could turn into one of those games where they rely on the goaltender to keep them in the game. And that would be a problem tonight because it looks like Louis Domingue is going to get his first start of the season tonight meaning Andrei Vasilevskiy won’t be around to bail out the rest of the team if they let the Canes camp out in the offensive z

The forward lines for Tampa will likely remain the same after scoring eight goals against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. That means Brayden Point will center the top line with Steven Stamkos on his right and Yanni Gourde on his left. The triplets will stay together on the second line. And JT Miller will continue on the fourth line. Miller on the fourth line seems to be a bit of a waste of his talent with some good passes ending up in nothing because his linemates, particularly Cedric Paquette, don’t have the skill to keep up with him in the offensive zone. But having him there does create exceptional balance in the lineup from top to bottom and it seemed to work over the weekend.

This is only the fourth game of the season for the Bolts but it should be a fun one. Both teams have talented players on all four lines and all three pairs. Carolina will want to continue to show that they’re a legitimate threat to the top teams this year. Tampa will want to avoid getting caved the way the rest of the Hurricanes’ opponents have so far.

A preview of the Eastern Conference Final? Way too early to tell but I wouldn’t be disappointed if that’s how the season unfolds.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - JT Miller

Cory Conacher, Danick Martel, Ryan Callahan (injured)

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek

Goaltenders

Louis Domingue

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Michael Ferland - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen

Warren Foegle - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams

Brock McGinn - Martin Necas - Valentin Zykov

Jordan Martinook - Lucas Wallmark - Andrei Svechnikov

Defense Pairings

Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton

Calvin De Haan - Justin Faulk

Trevor van Riemsdyk - Brett Pesce

Goalies

Curtis McElhinney

Petr Mrazek