VANCOUVER -- Goaltender Eddie Lack has looked forward to playing the Vancouver Canucks ever since they traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes last summer.
Lack will get his chance Wednesday, a belated birthday present one day after turning 28-years-old.
"Biggest game of the year," Lack said with a big smile.
A fan favorite while playing two seasons in Vancouver, Lack backstopped the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller was injured late last season with a .927 save percentage down the stretch. He was traded to the Hurricanes for a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a seventh-round pick in 2016 to clear room for goalie Jacob Markstrom, who will make his sixth straight start for an injured Miller.
Lack struggled early trying to play a more aggressive style while also adjusting to a new city, teammates and system in Carolina. He won once in his first nine appearances with an NHL-worst .863 save percentage, but is 4-0-2 with a .923 save percentage since Dec. 11.
For the 6-foot-4 Lack, the improvement is about getting back to the style he played in Vancouver.
"A little deeper in the blue ice, where I was comfortable before," he said. "That start was tough, it wears on you, but my game is in a pretty good place now. So am I."
Improved play from Lack and Cam Ward, who made 26 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday and owns a .938 save percentage in his past six starts, has helped the Hurricanes, who are seventh in the Metropolitan Division, to a 3-1-2 record since Christmas.
"The young guys are continuing to improve as we go along and get more comfortable playing at the NHL pace, our team has gotten better and we're receiving better goaltending," coach Bill Peters said. "Both goaltenders are playing well and our team game is in pretty good shape. [For Lack] a lot of things changed but now I think he has settled in, he has gained his confidence back and he is playing really well."
Lack will face a Canucks team struggling to score of late, but one that hopes to get a boost from the return of forward Sven Baertschi, who played on a second line with Bo Horvat and Radim Vrbata before hurting his neck against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 28 and missing two games.
Vancouver will also have leading scorer Daniel Sedin, who missed 10 minutes after losing several teeth when he was hit in the face by a puck during a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. Sedin won't let additional dental work Tuesday keep him out, but he wasn't sure if they will have an advantage from shooting on Lack for two years.
"He knows where we are going to shoot it too," Sedin said through double-digit stitches in his upper lip. "It wasn't that bad. I had a lot of fake teeth up there. One of my real ones broke off and was fractured but it wasn't that bad. I was happy."
Here are the projected lineups:
Kris Versteeg - Eric Staal - Elias Lindholm
Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Andrej Nestrasil
Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask – Brock McGinn
Brad Malone - Jay McClement - Riley Nash
John-Michael Liles - Justin Faulk
Jaccob Slavin - Ron Hainsey
Noah Hanifin - Brett Pesce
Injured: James Wisniewski (knee), Nathan Gerbe (lower body), Phillip Di Giuseppe (concussion)
Scratched: Michal Jordan, Chris Terry
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Radim Vrbata
Brandon Prust - Jared McCann - Derek Dorsett
Alexandre Burrows - Linden Vey - Adam Cracknell
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Alex Biega - Yannick Weber
Ben Hutton - Matt Bartkowski
Injured: Ryan Miller (groin), Dan Hamhuis (facial surgery), Luca Sbisa (hand), Brandon Sutter (sports hernia surgery)
Scratched: Andrej Pedan, Chris Higgins, Jake Virtanen
Status report: The Canucks sent forwards Ronalds Kenins and Alexandre Grenier back to Utica of the American Hockey League on Tuesday to make room for the returns of Baertschi, Prust and Jake Virtanen after he was loaned to Canada for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. … Di Giuseppe was diagnosed with a concussion Monday from a collision Saturday and did not travel to Vancouver.
Who's hot: Baertschi had three goals and four points in five games before his injury. … Hurricanes defensemen have combined for 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in their past 15 games.