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Upbeat Canes Embark on Lengthy Road Trip

Wins over San Jose, Minnesota helped Canes build momentum for five-game road swing

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Two countries. Six cities. Five games. Eleven days. Some 7,000-odd miles.

The Carolina Hurricanes have embarked on their longest road trip of the season - there's another five-game trip on the schedule in March, but it's not as long in duration - that will take them through Western Canada and Colorado. From Raleigh to Edmonton to Vancouver to Calgary to Winnipeg to Denver and then back to Raleigh, an 11-day flight pattern that loosely resembles the beginnings of some sort of cross-stitch design.

Though a lengthy trip, the schedule is rather advantageous for the Canes. There are no back-to-backs, no three-games-in-four-nights. At least a day separates each game, and an afternoon game in Calgary on Saturday followed by a two-day gap in between games allows the team to escape to Banff, Alberta, for the weekend before heading out for a Tuesday night tilt in Winnipeg.

But, analyzing the itinerary for the road trip is looking too far ahead for the Canes, who are steadfast in their cliché-but-true game-by-game approach.

"We can't really think about anything but tomorrow's game," Sebastian Aho said. "That's the only way you can do it. If you start thinking about Colorado, it's, what, 10 days from now? You miss four games if you're thinking about that."

LISTEN: CANESCAST PREVIEWS ROAD TRIP

Tomorrow's game that Aho is referencing pits the Canes against the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers, a 9 p.m. Eastern faceoff on Tuesday.

The Oilers boast one of the game's most elite players in Connor McDavid, who has 19 goals and 52 points in 33 games. His linemate, Leon Draisaitl, is a point better with 19 goals and 34 assists (53 points) in 33 games.

"Probably the best player in the world," Aho said of McDavid. "We're going to try to shut that line down, try to produce a couple of goals and play a good road game."

"It's a challenge, and we've got a lot of guys who will accept that challenge," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's nice we only have to play them twice a year."

The Canes will reinforce their lineup with the expected return of forward Martin Necas, who has missed the team's last four games with a lower-body injury. Necas, who has six goals and 10 assists (16 points) in 26 games this season, returned to practice with the team on Friday.

"He at least thinks he's good," Brind'Amour said.

Erik Haula has been on the shelf for the last 10 games with a knee injury and is not with the Canes on this trp. Julien Gauthier earned his second recall from Charlotte on Sunday evening. Gauthier made his NHL debut earlier this season and played in two games with the Canes. He leads the Checkers with 10 goals in 22 games this season.

"It's your play away from the puck, it's understanding what we're trying to do, the systems. I think he's definitely put a lot of work in that area," Brind'Amour said. "The rest of his game is, I think, an NHL game. His size, speed and strength, that's NHL quality there. If he can shore up the stuff we're talking about - and, again, he's going to have his mistakes because he's a young guy and this is a different level - he's got a good chance."

The Canes took all four of a possible four points in two home games against Western Conference opponents prior to this road trip, a nice base off which to build.

"It gets everybody feeling good and upbeat," Brind'Amour said. "When you win a couple, everyone feels good about the game. Now, you have to figure out how to continue to keep getting better and maintain that because we've got to keep winning games."

"We created some momentum," Aho said. "It's going to be a big road trip for us, and we want to build on those two wins."

Video: MIN@CAR: Aho earns third NHL hat trick in 6-2 win

Aho had a first-star performance on Saturday against Minnesota, as he posted his third career NHL hat trick and a career-high five points in the Canes' 6-2 win. Since the beginning of November, Aho has played at better than a point-per-game pace with 13 goals and eight assists (21 points) in 18 games. He now ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 27 points (16g, 11a) in 30 games.

Another five-point night on this extended road trip would be nice, sure, but five wins?

"Five wins, that would make me happy," Aho smiled.

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