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TONIGHT: WHALERS VS. LIGHTNING

WHEN/WHERE: 7:35; Ice Palace, Tampa.

RADIO: WSUN-AM 620.

RECORDS: Whalers 27-36-10, Lightning 29-37-7.

THE SERIES: This is the third of four meetings this season. Hartford has won the previous two and owns an 8-7-1 advantage. The final meeting is April 13 in Hartford, the last game of the regular season.

THE AILING: Whalers _ D Jeff Brown (back), RW Kevin Dineen (abdomen), LW Sami Kapanen (knee) and D Marek Malik (shin) are out. Lightning _ C Brian Bradley (wrist) and Daren Puppa (back) are out.

WHAT IT MEANS: The winner takes sole possession of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. A tie would leave Tampa Bay in ninth, one point ahead of the Whalers.

LATELY: It has been a rough couple of days in Hartford. The team announced plans Wednesday to move after this season. Tuesday, the Whalers outshot the Avalanche 46-28 but lost 4-0. Hartford has lost six straight to fall from seventh in the conference to 10th. The Lightning is coming off one of its most impressive victories. Rick Tabaracci made 28 saves, the short-handed unit killed seven Ottawa power plays, the power play chipped in with a goal and five players scored in a 5-0 win Tuesday.

GOALIESPEAK: Sean Burke, the loser Tuesday against Colorado, is expected to start for Hartford. Tabaracci did not practice Wednesday, which means he'll start tonight.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning is 5-2-1 at home against the Whalers, but Hartford won the only meeting in the Ice Palace. Hartford's only other victory at Tampa Bay was 4-3 in overtime in 1993 at Expo Hall. The Whalers are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. Ottawa, Anaheim and Edmonton are the only other teams not to make the playoffs since the 1992-93 season.

_ TOM JONES

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