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Canes continue playoff chase against Maple Leafs

by Matthew Mankiewich
HURRICANES (25-20-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (20-25-5)

TV -- TSN (HD), RDS (HD), FS-CR (HD)

Last 10 --
Carolina 5-5-0; Toronto 4-5-1

Season series --
The Canes have already taken the first two of the four-game set and have a five-game winning streak against the Leafs going back to last season. They've also taken three out of four the last three campaigns, Toronto's last series win coming in 2006-07.

Big story -- The Hurricanes have been straddling the playoff line most of the season, finding themselves a point out of the eighth seed behind Southeast Division rival Atlanta. That could flip with a Canes win and a Thrashers loss to a resurgent Flames team. Though they're 12 points out of a playoff spot, the Leafs come out of the break playing several teams they're pursuing and can make up a lot of ground quickly.

Team scope:

Hurricanes --
They tried to ride the vibe created by All-Star Weekend and hit the ground running, but the Hurricanes had to face the NHL's top trip-up artist these days, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. He and fellow All-Star Cam Ward dueled to a 3-2 Boston win.

"It was a good, tight game," coach Paul Maurice told the Raleigh News and Observer. "Good chances. The fight was there. I don't think there were things easy for each team. Some rust on the puck, but no excuses. Their guy was real good."

Still, that wasn't enough given the Canes' position in the standings.

"You've got to try to get into some overtimes in the games that you don't necessarily play your best," said Joe Corvo, who scored the Canes' second goal. "Especially at home, it stings a little bit (to lose)."

Maple Leafs -- It's not as tight as the Western Conference, but there's certainly a race for the final playoff spots and the Leafs will be facing a lot of teams fighting for them in the next couple of weeks. They have the Sabres twice, the Thrashers, Islanders, Devils, Bruins and Canadiens, the two New York metro-area teams the only ones way out of contention. The opportunity is there to throw a wrench in the works and possibly move up a place or two. Or not.

The post-All-Star opener didn't inspire a lot of confidence, as the Leafs blew three consecutive one-goal leads to the Panthers but held on to win in a shootout, 4-3.

"We've got 30-some odd games left," Clarke MacArthur said in The Globe and Mail. "If you think about it, we've got to be batting .750 the rest of the way or something around there. That's a lot of hard work ahead of us."

If 90 points is good enough for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs have to take 45 out of 64 available points, which is a .703 percentage. Consider that Philadelphia and Montreal last year were the first Eastern teams since 2002-03 to make the playoffs with fewer than 91.

Who's hot -- As euphoric as All-Star Weekend was in Raleigh, there was some concern that Eric Staal might have had a letdown after a whirlwind five days in which Maurice described him as "mayor of the town." He logged 24:37 in ice time Tuesday. Teammate Jeff Skinner nailed down Rookie of the Month for January with nine goals and five assists. Most importantly, the Canes went 6-1-0 in games where Skinner scored a goal. Corvo's goal Tuesday extended his points streak to six games.

Injury report --
Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen left during the first period of Tuesday's game with an undisclosed lower-body injury, but it is not believed to be serious. … Leafs forward John Mitchell (knee) has been out since Jan. 2 but has resumed practicing for a possible return within a week. Forward Colton Orr (head) remains on IR after getting hit in a fight with Anaheim's George Parros on Jan. 20.

Stat pack -- The win over the Panthers was the first for Jean-Sebastien Giguere since Jan. 20, but he gave up five goals against the Hurricanes last time he faced them and is 1-3-0 in his last four starts against Carolina. Ward, on the other hand, is 6-2-0 with a 2.86 goals-against average in his last eight starts against the Leafs. … Phil Kessel has 2 goals and an assist against Carolina this year, but hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 11 against the Sharks, an eight-game drought.

Puck drop --
"He's a hockey guy. He wants to be out there when the game's on the line. He's scored some huge goals for us, a couple of shootout goals, and I think as we go along in the season you'll even see more great things from him because that's really when he excels." -- Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford in the Canadian Press describing Skinner

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