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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Jets

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are beginning to get rewarded for their consistent efforts, and that has been most evident within the friendly confines of the RBC Center.

Michael Smith
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In its last 10 home games, the team is 7-2-1. The Canes bring a two-game home winning streak into tonight’s match-up with the Winnipeg Jets after wins over playoff teams in Boston and Washington.

“We always show up at home,” forward Jiri Tlusty said. “The key has been that we’ve done the small details well at home, and we work really hard.”

Head coach Kirk Muller also spoke to the team’s attention to detail, something he believes the Canes have done well at home.

“Our focus has been great. Our consistency has been really good,” he said. “I think we’ve played a good, high-tempo game that’s got our fans into it. We’ve just been playing hard.”

Muller also noted the statistic of goals against, which has been slashed drastically over the last seven games. Dating back to Jan. 10, the Canes have allowed just 11 goals in seven games (extra shootout goal awarded against Pittsburgh withheld), an average of 1.57 per game. That’s nearly half of what their season average is at 3.08.

It’s no coincidence that Cam Ward has been at his best in this stretch, too. In his last eight starts, Ward has surrendered two goals or less, and his save percentage is .952. He has stopped 256 of his last 269 shots faced.

“Our respect and pride in goals against is getting good,” Muller said. “We’ve really cut it down. But we’re doing it in a way that we’re not a complete defensive-type team. We want to be an aggressive team. We want to skate and have our forwards working and forechecking. I think we’re playing that high-tempo game right now that allows us to play well at both ends.”

The Hurricanes have struggled to find success against tonight’s opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, even though that success came in spades last season.

In 2010-11, the Canes won five of six against Atlanta – three in overtime and one in the shootout – and collected a point in the sixth. So far this season, Winnipeg has taken all three meetings, winning 5-3 and 4-2 at home and 3-1 in Raleigh.

“We’ve played twice in their arena, and it’s hard to win in there,” Tlusty said. “We have to find a way to win against Winnipeg because we have to catch them.”

Jussi Jokinen talked after Friday’s game about how the Hurricanes believe their best chance of making the postseason, slim as it may be, is to win the division. Divisional games like tonight, then, take on heightened importance.

“We cannot look at the board right now and say, ‘Well, what’s the chance?’” Tlusty said. “We just have to keep playing and worry about ourselves. If we keep winning, then we have the chance to still make it.”

Muller said the key to finally earning points against the Jets tonight will be more of what the team has done recently to be successful – keep the game low-scoring, but stay strong with the game-plan which calls for a high tempo.

“We can’t get in the fire-wagon kind of game with these guys. Our success lately has been tightening things up, keeping it low-scoring,” he said. “We know this team is going to come hard and come after us, and we have to be ready for a high-tempo type game, which is good for us. We have to be prepared because this is our last game before break. We have to come with that focus tonight.”

The Hurricanes, minus Justin Faulk, will have an extended break following tonight’s game as attention turns to All-Star Weekend in Ottawa. The Canes next game isn’t until eight days from now, which will provide for many a welcome interlude in what has been a rollercoaster of a season.

“Everybody wants to get a little rest. It will be nice to get some days off for us all to recharge,” Tlusty said. “It’s a long break, but it gives you energy. When we come back, everyone will be looking forward to our last push to the end of the season.”

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