We pretty much know the identity of the West's eight playoff teams, but the East is a bumper-to-bumper race for its last few berths. Follow the races and games as the NHL regular season heads toward its April 8 conclusion.
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Lecavalier scored his NHL-leading 50th goal on a deflected backhand and added two assists to lead Tampa Bay to a 4-2 victory over the slumping Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
"It was obviously really fluky," Lecavalier said. "But it seems like it's always like that, something fluky."
Martin St. Louis netted his 42nd goal, Vaclav Prospal had a goal and assist and Filip Kuba broke a third-period tie for the Lightning, who twice rallied from one-goal deficits and moved past the idle New York Rangers into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
And suddenly, Tortorella's bold playoff proclamation doesn't look like that much of a reach. After the Lightning lost for the fifth time in seven games, he issued a Joe Namath-style guarantee that his team would reach the postseason for the fourth straight season.
"Everyone in this room feels like we're going to make the playoffs, and we don't all come out and say it because it's not the way it's usually done, but we all feel that way in the dressing room," defenseman Nolan Pratt said. "I don't think it puts any more pressure on us. There's already a ton of pressure to win anyway."
Erik Cole and Mike Commodore scored for Carolina, which has lost three straight and is in danger of becoming the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs since New Jersey in 1996. The Hurricanes are tied for 10th in the East, two points below the playoff cutoff with four games remaining.
Carolina has its first three-game slide since dropping four straight from Jan. 27-Feb. 3.
"A loss at this point in the season is frustrating, period," coach Peter Laviolette said.
Kuba's winner came seconds after a Tampa Bay power play expired. Craig Adams played the puck near the Carolina goal and tried a long pass to Commodore coming out of the penalty box, but Kuba intercepted it behind the left circle and snapped the puck past Cam Ward with 9:25 left, making it 3-2.
"I was on the other side of the blue line, [Adams] saw me and we were trying to make a play," Commodore said. "He just didn't get it out."
Dan Boyle turned in the defensive play of the game by denying Trevor Letowski's potential tying goal. The puck was about to trickle behind Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist and into the net when Boyle swatted it out of mid-air.
"It was going in," Boyle said. "It was a split-second reach on my part. Obviously, it's a different ball game if that puck goes in."
Lecavalier then sealed it with about five minutes left, spinning around and backhanding the puck off Carolina defenseman David Tanabe's stick and through Ward's legs to make it a two-goal game. Before this season, Lecavalier had never scored more than 35 goals in his seven previous NHL campaigns.
"Every time you get even to 29 [goals] with 40 games left, to get that 30th goal is tough," Lecavalier said. "Then at 39, too, and 49. So, it seems like every time you reach a nine it's in your head for some reason. It shouldn't be, but it is."
Holmqvist made 26 saves in his second straight victory over Carolina, and Ward stopped 25 shots.
Tampa Bay's first comeback came late in the first when St. Louis took a pass from Prospal in the left circle and one-timed the puck past Ward's stick side. St. Louis' eighth goal in six games against Carolina was his 99th point of the season.
That came after Cole had put Carolina up 1-0 with his 28th goal and first in three games. He positioned himself to the right of Holmqvist and wristed home the rebound of Cory Stillman's shot from the slot.
Commodore put the Hurricanes up 2-1 early in the second period, scoring off a pass from Letowski with about 16 minutes left. But Prospal's goal made it 2-2 with about four minutes remaining in the second, backhanding a cross-ice pass from Lecavalier past Ward.
"We competed and were on our game right from the start, and we weren't rewarded for the effort," Cole said.
St. Louis extended his point streak to five games. ... Stillman recorded his 100th point with Carolina on his first-period assist. ... Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley missed his second straight game with an injured left foot. ... Hurricanes All-Star right winger Justin Williams has gone eight games without a goal and has two in his last 14. ... Tampa Bay took a 4-3 lead in the series, which concludes Tuesday in Tampa. ... Lecavalier scored 35 goals last season.