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Blackhawks end marathon trip by visiting Hurricanes

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (37-13-4) at HURRICANES (18-28-7)

Last 10 -- Chicago 6-3-1; Carolina 6-4-0

Season Series --
This is the only meeting of the year between Chicago and Carolina. The Hawks took their only matchup last season, a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center on March 11.

Big Story -- Chicago faces one final obstacle as it reaches the final stop of its eight-game road trip, as the Hawks visit the red-hot Hurricanes at the RBC Center.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks --
After eight games and more than 9,000 miles, the Hawks will finally come home next week, but first Chicago will face off with the Canes in Raleigh Saturday night. Despite the long trek, the Hawks don't yet appear wearied by the extensive travel. Chicago is 5-2 on the trip, and its last win may have been the biggest all season. Troy Brouwer scored two goals, including the overtime winner, as the Hawks knocked off the League-leading Sharks, 4-3, Thursday.

While the Hawks are still a point behind San Jose in the standings, the win clinched the season series between the two teams and gave Chicago two more victories on the year. With wins and head-to-head record serving as the first two tiebreakers, Brouwer's winner may have put Chicago on the inside track for the West's top seed. In addition to Brouwer, Chicago has gotten its regular contribution from Jonathan Toews -- Captain Serious has eight points in his last seven games. As well, stability may be returning in net. After going winless for 10 days, Cristobal Huet has taken his last two starts.

Hurricanes --
While Chicago may be coming home soon, the Canes are about to set out on a road swing of their own. Carolina will begin a four-game stretch in Edmonton Monday, and a win over the Hawks would give the Hurricanes an awful lot of momentum as they head west. In the midst of a rough season, Carolina is suddenly experiencing a resurgence. The Canes have won three straight, outscoring their opponents by a 14-3 margin in the process.

Not surprisingly, Carolina's winning streak has coincided with a terrific stretch from its recently-named captain Eric Staal. Since donning the "C" for the first time, Staal has netted eight goals in five games and the scoring has been contagious. Center Matt Cullen has seven points in as many games, while veteran left wing Ray Whitney has tallied nine points in his last seven. The production seems to be agreeing with goaltender Cam Ward, who has been superb lately, sporting a 1.44 goals-against average in his last five starts.

Who's Hot --
Marian Hossa has quietly been delivering solid production for Chicago with 15 points in his last 14 games, while Jussi Jokinen has been overshadowed by his captain in Carolina. The winger has eight points in his last five outings.

Injury Report --
Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu is expected to miss at least a week with an upper-body injury, while Chicago is still waiting for Dave Bolland to make his return to the lineup after having back surgery in November.

Stat Pack --
While the Hawks have a tendency to generate more chances than the Canes -- Chicago averages 4.5 more shots per game than Carolina -- it's the defensive end that should concern the Canes. Carolina averages 31.1 shots against per game while Chicago only surrenders 24.2 -- by far the best in the League.

Puck Drop --
While Carolina may already be building for next season -- the Canes are currently last in the Eastern Conference -- ending their long road trip will still be difficult for the Hawks. The Canes are playing as well as they have all season and the RBC Center has never been a welcome stop for Chicago. The Blackhawks haven't won in Raleigh in more than 12 years.

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