HURRICANES (20-25-9) at DUCKS (20-24-8)
TV: FS-CR (HD), PRIME (HD)
Last 10: Carolina 6-2-2; Anaheim 7-2-1
Season Series: It's the first of two meetings this season; the Ducks return the visit when they come to the RBC Center on Feb. 23. In their only meeting last season, the 'Canes topped the Ducks 4-2 on Dec. 18, 2010, thanks to a natural hat trick from captain Eric Staal.
Big Story: Two teams succeeding in the role of playoff spoiler will meet for an interconference tilt on Wednesday in Anaheim. The 'Canes have won four of six, with all four victories coming against teams vying for playoff position. The Ducks flew through January, accumulating a 9-2-1 record and making a few playoff ripples of their own, but have stumbled to a 1-2-0 record to open February.
Hurricanes : For the first time this season, Carolina is looking more like the team they were predicted to be back in September. The 'Canes followed their most notable recent win - a 3-0 shutout of the Bruins in Boston last Thursday, completing an improbable season sweep - by beating Los Angeles 2-1 on Saturday. Injury-plagued attackers Jiri Tlusty and Jeff Skinner both scored, and Cam Ward allowed two goals or fewer for the 11th time in 12 games as Carolina won for the fourth time in six games.
"It does look nicer when you look at the standings," coach Kirk Muller said of the recent improvement. "But the key is the way we've been playing. The nice thing now is we're finding ways to win in these tight games. A month ago, who knows if we get points out of these games? We just want to focus on us, and if we can keep climbing, that's what we're after."
Ducks: With two consecutive home losses to start February, Anaheim was desperate for two points Monday against Calgary to prevent their playoff window from closing completely. The Ducks blew an early two-goal lead and needed a goal by Niklas Hagman in the eighth round of the shootout to beat Calgary 3-2.
"I think that's the most critical shootout we've ever been in," said Bobby Ryan, who scored in regulation and the shootout. "You could feel it on the bench, that's for sure."
Anaheim's offense has stalled of late, with just two regulation goals in three straight games. The offensive struggles were on display Monday, when the Ducks didn't score in the final two periods, including 96 seconds of a 5-on-3 midway through the second period.
Who's Hot: Ward is a major reason for Carolina's recent surge. Only one goalie has more starts than Ward's 47, and Ward has a .951 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average in his last 12 starts.
Injury Report: For Carolina, Chad LaRose is day-to-day with an illness. Joni Pitkanen hasn't played since suffering a concussion on Dec. 6, and goalie Brian Boucher is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. … Anaheim rookie Devante Smith-Pelly was sent to AHL Syracuse to rehabilitate a broken bone in his foot, while goalie Dan Ellis is out with a torn groin muscle.
Stat Pack: Very few teams have a road record as bad as Anaheim's 6-11-6 mark, but Carolina is one of them. The 'Canes are 6-13-6 away from the RBC Center, and their win over Boston at TD Garden last Thursday was just their second in 10 road games.
Puck Drop: Anaheim's offensive troubles are not lost on coach Bruce Boudreau, who expressed his disappointment after Monday's game.
"You can't get better chances than we had, better looks than we had," Boudreau said. "We just didn't put it in. Whether (Miikka) Kiprusoff was making great saves or we were hitting the post, I thought (the 5-on-3) was a big turning point in the game, quite frankly. It sure gave them life."