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The wind starts to blow at the winter solstice; Hurricanes at Lightning preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

The only divisional opponent the Lightning have not faced this year are the Carolina Hurricanes… And that changes tonight. It’s the final game of the home stand is another crucial affair with jockeying in the Southeast Division revving up.

Focus in the division today is on the Capitals finally winning a game last night and reclaiming the division lead. The Atlanta Thrashers sit just a point behind them in the standings… It’s a three-way race to all those who focus on the top of the heap.

But, for all inherit purposes, this is a four-way race. The Canes are coming up the rear in the standings and are not a team to overlook or to brush off. They sit six points behind the Lightning in the standings (34 points in 31 games this season, while the Bolts have 40 points in 32 games — h/t to Tomk in comments for the correction) and have won four straight. They’re 6-2-2 in their past ten games.

Is this a trap game? Coming on the heels of a well-played affair on Saturday night, and with the looming holiday road trip to New York, you have to hope the Bolts are focusing on this challenge and don’t get complacent.

We already alerted everyone to this morning’s news that Cedrick Desjardins was recalled from Norfolk. The recall was something planned for a while for the holiday stretch.

What was not planned was Mike Smith going down during practice this morning. Mike Corcoran and Erik Erlendsson both reported via Twitter that Smith left the ice after apparently suffering a knee injury. There is no word and no report on what happened, or his status for tonight’s game (where he had been pegged to start). I’ll update things when I get more information.

[Note by John Fontana, 12/20/10 3:10 PM EST ] GM Steve Yzerman told NHL Live today that Mike SMith will likely not dress tonight and Desjardins will serve as backkup to Dan Ellis.

If tonight’s game comes down to special teams play, the Bolts may be in for a treat… For yet another game, they face a squad that has is in the lower-third of the league when it comes to both of their special units. The Hurricanes are 22nd in the league on the power play and 25th in the league on the penalty kill.

But it’s not like the Lightning are other-worldly on special teams. Oh, they’re good… But the Lightning have given up the most short-handed goals in the NHL (7) and have yet to score a short-handed goal themselves when on the penalty kill. Dana Tyrell has come close, as has Nate Thompson and others… But “close” does not translate into “SHG”.

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