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Notebook: Divisional Stretch Continues for Canes

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

If they had it their way, the Carolina Hurricanes would never leave PNC Arena.

After all, they own one of the league's best home records there this season at 15-4-1, including a near-perfect 14-1-1 mark in their last 16.

But, the NHL schedule dictates that each team must play 41 road games, so after snagging all eight of a possible eight points in a four-game homestand, the Hurricanes hit the road to face the Blue Jackets in their first of two visits to Columbus this week.

In doing so, the Hurricanes are in search of translating their success at home to the road, as well. In the first half of the season, the Canes won just six games away from home (6-11-6).

"Just play the same way," Brock McGinn said. "We're playing with speed. We're playing good, transitional hockey. We're turning pucks over and going the other way with speed. That's a really big key for us in the way we play."

"We've got to play with the same pace. We've got to start a little better. We've been down here recently to start games," head coach Bill Peters said. "We've been overcoming some deficits. We don't want to do that no matter where we play. I think our starts can be better, and we can tighten up away from the puck."

Video: Lee Stempniak: "It's on us to play to our level"

Tuesday's game marks the second in a series of five straight that the Hurricanes will play within the Metropolitan Division, which is the hottest and most competitive in the league at the moment. The top six teams, which includes the Hurricanes, are a combined 155-77-28. In fact, if the Hurricanes were in the Atlantic Division or the Western Conference, they'd currently occupy a playoff spot.

Instead, they find themselves just a point back of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand on Philadelphia.

"It's good. It's perfect," Peters said of the team's upcoming schedule.

"We know how big these next couple games are," McGinn said. "We just have to continue [the way we've been playing]."

B-Rock On

McGinn earned NHL third star honors for the week after the rookie forward posted seven points (4g, 3a) and a plus-five rating in his last three games.

"It's a good feeling," he said after practice on Monday. "It's a compliment to our team on how we're playing right now. It goes through our whole lineup. It's contagious."

Video: Brock McGinn: "It's a compliment to our team"

McGinn tallied two goals, including the game-winner, in Friday's 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He followed it up the next night against the Islanders by being a driving force, along with his linemates Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm, in the teams' 7-4 rout of New York; McGinn posted a four-point night (1g, 3a), while his linemates each had three (1g, 2a). McGinn was rewarded with the "chop wood, carry water" postgame award for the second game in a row on Saturday, as he became the first Hurricane to earn back-to-back honors.

"Everybody is going in here right now. We're a confident group," McGinn said. "We've just got to continue that."

"Lindy coming back really gives that line a real good identity," Peters said. "Ginner is playing the same game, he's just getting a little more results in the offensive zone. He's a real responsible player and has been good for us for quite a while."

Unleash the (Swedish) Beast

Before Lindholm missed five games with an upper-body injury, he had recorded points in three straight games (2g, 2a). Since returning to the lineup, he again has points in three straight (1g, 4a) and has displayed the dynamic abilities that made him a fifth-overall draft pick in 2013.

"He wants to be a difference-maker, and he wants to be a guy who helps get us to where we want to go. When you're out and the team's winning, you look around and go, 'Hmm.' It makes you think. It's competitive. When you're in the lineup, you want to stay in the lineup," Peters said. "He wants to be a legit top-six guy. He wants to play in all situations. He's working his way towards that."

On Friday against Buffalo, Lindholm helped create the play that resulted in McGinn's first of two goals. He protected the puck along the boards before fighting through bodies and getting a shot on goal, where McGinn was positioned in order to deposit the rebound.

"Lindy has played really, really well," Staal said of his right-winger. "He's really, really strong. He's holding onto pucks, bringing guys to him, dishing and making plays - all those things we know he can do."

"Now you're seeing what he's all about," Peters said. "Good two-way guy. Heavy, hard on pucks. Still has a real good skillset."

Bickell and Lack Practice

There were a lot of Hurricanes at Raleigh Center Ice on Monday. In fact, all of the Hurricanes were accounted for, including forward Bryan Bickell and goaltender Eddie Lack.

Bickell has been out of commission since November when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It remains a long road back to game action for Bickell, but progress is always an encouraging sign.

Video: Bill Peters: "Makes you think"

"We'll see where it goes and see how he reacts to the skate today," Peters said. "He was in good spirits. He did a good job out there. He's worked hard and kept himself in good shape."

Lack is working his way back from another concussion. He's missed the team's last eight games, and today marked his first time participating in practice since the injury.

"I think he's getting closer," Peters said, adding that he was unsure if a conditioning stint in Charlotte would be in play once Lack is cleared.

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