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Erik Cole leads Hurricanes past Lightning

Erik Cole scored two goals to help the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Friday night to remain three points behind Buffalo for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Cole put the Hurricanes up 2-1 with a power-play goal at 8:23 of the second period and added an unassisted backhander 6:50 into the third to help Carolina win its third straight game.

Eric Staal scored for the first time in eight games to give Carolina a 4-1 lead, connecting on a power play with 7:40 left in the third. Tampa Bay answered with goals in a 52-second span by Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne, but the rally fell short.

Gagne opened the scoring at 7:12 of the first period on Tampa Bay's second power-play opportunity.

Jeff Skinner tied it with 7:08 left in the first. The rookie center has scored at least one point in all four games against the Lightning.

The Lightning had only three shots on Cam Ward in the second period. They have dropped four consecutive games and 10 of 12 overall this month.

Ward stopped 18 shots, and Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves for Tampa Bay.

NOTES: The Hurricanes are 14-4-2 against the Lightning in their last 20 games. They are 4-1-0 since a four-game winless streak and have won three in a row for the first time since early January. ... Tampa Bay RW Adam Hall played in his 500th NHL game. ... Carolina D Jamie McBain (shoulder) missed his sixth straight game. He might return when the home-and-home series concludes Saturday night in Raleigh. ... Lightning RW Steve Downie returned after missing nine games because of a high ankle sprain. He received a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the third period.