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NHL on NBCSN: Lightning seek sweep vs. Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning

NHLI via Getty Images

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Carolina Hurricanes host the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

At a quick glance, Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes should be a layup for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They’re the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning won three straight games heading into the All-Star break. Even with Tyler Johnson’s lower-body injury labeling him as a game-time decision, the Bolts go into this contest boasting a ton of talent.

The margins are smaller once you look a little closer, though.

Yes, the Lightning won both games against the Hurricanes so far, but each win was by a 2-1 score. Tampa Bay boasts frail leads in the conference (the New York Islanders trail by one standings point with two games in hand) and its division (Detroit is only behind by one point with a game in hand; Montreal is three away with three games in hand).

The Lightning still seem to shake out as one of the East’s elite (see their +29 goal differential, among other factors), yet that closer examination still speaks to the notion that they have some work to do.

The most obvious area of improvement is their work on the road. They’ve quietly struggled away from Tampa Bay, going 11-10-3. Every other current East playoff team grades better that the Lightning (some much, others just a bit) until you get to eighth-place Boston with a nearly identical 10-9-3 road mark.

If the Bolts want to take that next step from promising, rising team to genuine contenders, they need to become more proficient without home cooking.

The Hurricanes stand as a sturdier test than their 16-25-5 record suggests, too.

Carolina is on a two-game winning streak and is 6-2-1 in nine January contests. With the Staal brothers, Jeff Skinner and All-Star Justin Faulk, there’s enough talent there to make the Hurricanes a spoiler threat as the seasons last two-plus months wind down.

At the moment, it seems like it might be Anton Khudobin vs. Ben Bishop in net, but stay tuned for goalie nods to find out for sure.

Follow James O’Brien @cyclelikesedins