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Gameday: Staal Looks to Make it 11 Straight

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes will close out their longest homestand of the season tonight with a divisional opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Michael Smith
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This is music to Eric Staal’s ears. Staal has more goals (29) and points (58) against Tampa Bay than he does against any other team in his National Hockey League career. In his last 10 meetings with the Bolts, Staal has 14 points (4g, 10a).

Not to mention, he’s riding a season-high 10-game point streak that has seen him net seven goals and earn a helper on 11 others. The longest point streak in Carolina franchise history since relocation is 11 games, set by Staal in 2010. The franchise record is 18 games, set by Mike Rogers in 1980-81. Staal has also put together a nine-game assist streak, a new franchise record since relocation.

“Staal is such a workhorse and can take so many minutes,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “When he’s going, he skates, he moves and it’s a quick tempo.”

Sandwiched by wingers Zach Boychuk and Jiri Tlusty, Staal’s line might draw some defensive assignments tonight, as well.

The third line will be tasked with shutting down Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell, who have combined for 188 points this season. Stamkos leads the League in goals with 45. Purcell brings an eight-game point streak into tonight’s game after recording 3 points (1g, 2a) on Friday against New York. And St. Louis has 60 points (22g, 38a) in 59 games.

They’ll likely see the bulk of Tampa Bay’s ice time, even after playing 20-plus minutes each last night. St. Louis led the team in ice time with 28:10 in Tampa Bay’s overtime win. Stamkos logged 25:42 and Purcell, 23:20.

“It’s no secret that Sutter’s line will probably see a lot of them,” Muller said. “But, if they play a lot, there’s going to be more than one line that has to do the job. I’m very comfortable with Staalsy’s line going against them, as well. Our D-pairings are going to be important.

“We’ve got to stop Stamkos,” Muller said. “He’s on fire.”

Tampa Bay might be saying the same thing about Staal, who’s likely to draw the attention of their best defensive groupings, as well.

Re-entering the Canes’ lineup for the first time in seven games will be forward Chad LaRose. He’s only played in six of the team’s last 21 games due to varying injuries, the most recent of which being an upper-body concern.

“He’s been skating with Johnny [MacLean] and Roddy [Brind’Amour], who have been working him,” Muller said. “We need his energy and tempo.”

For a team that is two games over .500, Tampa Bay has a dismal road record of 10-19-4. Though they bring a three-game winning streak into tonight’s game, they’ve won just two of their last six games on the road.

On the other end of the ice, the Hurricanes haven’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since early January. The Canes have a chance tonight to earn eight of a possible 12 points during their homestand before embarking on a season-long five game trek up and down the East coast.

This game is the fifth of six meetings between the two teams this season. The teams have alternated victories, Tampa Bay taking the first and third and Carolina winning the second and fourth meetings. That fourth meeting was a resounding 5-2 win for the Hurricanes, who jumped out to an early and commanding 4-1 lead.

Cam Ward will get the start in net, his 400th game in the NHL, all with this franchise. Brian Boucher was removed from injured reserve and will back up Ward, the first time Boucher has dressed since Dec. 3.

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