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Hurricanes 3, Lightning 3

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes' lack of big-game success is showing as they try to qualify for the NHL playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Trying to wrap up the Southeast Division title and a likely No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hurricanes have won just one of their past six games. Their latest struggling performance came Sunday, when they built a two-goal lead before the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team with the league's worst record, rallied for a 3-3 tie.

The Hurricanes' problems mean that, with eight games left in the regular season, Carolina's lead over the Florida Panthers atop the division standings is five points.

``It's up to them,'' Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. ``If they go on a great run, they can get themselves back in the race. If they don't, we're going to win.''

The Hurricanes went into Sunday's game looking to rebound from their worst performance of the season, a 7-2 loss to Toronto on Friday night. Carolina's Arturs Irbe gave up goals on each of Toronto's first three shots, and he had more problems against Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game when Stephane Richer launched a 65-foot shot that Irbe didn't touch as it went past him.

``He has scored a lot of goals like that, and I was aware of that, and he still caught me off guard,'' Irbe said. ``I didn't play it perfectly, and it cost me a goal.''

Irbe's struggles Sunday kept his victory total for the season at 25, including just one in his last six decisions.

``I'm not very happy how things have gone,'' he said. ``The game slips away, and I have to work my way back. Sometimes the puck seems like a beach ball, and sometimes it looks real small like a golf ball. But that doesn't matter. I have to stop them.''

Ron Francis had a goal and an assist to lead Carolina, and Sami Kapanen and Ray Sheppard added goals for the Hurricanes, who scored more than two goals for the first time in six games.

Tampa Bay, winless in its last seven games against Carolina, also got goals from Chris Gratton and Alexandre Daigle.

``We competed for 65 minutes. That's all we want for our team,'' said Tampa Bay coach Jacques Demers. ``After it was 3-1, we never stopped skating. We battled the whole game.''

After Francis helped the Hurricanes to a two-goal lead just before the midway point of the game, Gratton banged in a rebound to make it 3-2 later in the second period. Daigle tied it with 11:42 left in the third when he took a pass from Darcy Tucker behind the net and poked the puck past Irbe.

Neither team had any great scoring chances in overtime.

``We made some mistakes,'' Francis said. ``We had more than enough chances to win, and we didn't get it done.''

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