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Capitals-Hurricanes Preview @NHLdotcom

The Carolina Hurricanes are atop the Southeast Division, but they haven't been playing like a first-place team lately.

The struggling Hurricanes look to avoid losing to the last-place Washington Capitals for the second time in less than a week when the division rivals meet Friday at the RBC Center.

Carolina (13-9-3) has 29 points - 11 more than the Capitals, who own the league's worst record - but Washington already has won two of three in the season series.

The Hurricanes lost to the Capitals 5-2 on Saturday, and followed that up with a 3-1 defeat to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Carolina has lost five of its last seven games, and has not lost three in a row since March 27-30.

"Everyone just has to pick their game up just a little bit," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We're not so bad, but everyone is going to have to play better."

Cory Stillman scored for Carolina on Wednesday, his 12th of the season but just his first since Nov. 12. Stillman had a hat trick in the Hurricanes' 5-0 win over the Capitals on Nov. 5, and has four goals and eight assists in his last 10 games against them. He also leads the team with 30 points.

Eric Staal had two goals and an assist in that victory, and has six goals and six assists in his last 10 games against Washington. Staal leads Carolina with 14 goals.

Goaltender Cam Ward stopped 31 shots against the Flyers and has alternated wins and losses in his last six starts. Ward opened the season 6-0-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average, but is 5-6-0 with a 3.31 GAA and a shutout since Oct. 26.

Although Ward has struggled lately, playing against the Capitals seems to bring out his best, as all three of his career shutouts have come against them including on Nov. 5 when he recorded 35 saves. In his last start of the 2006-07 season against the Capitals, Ward made 25 saves in a 3-0 win on March 9.

He is 7-3-0 with a 2.56 GAA lifetime against Washington - his most wins against any opponent.

The Capitals are coming off a 2-1 shootout loss to Florida on Wednesday that went 11 rounds. Washington hadn't been involved in a shootout since March 15, and it went 1-11 in them last season.

"Coaches love them when they're winning," said Capitals interim coach Bruce Boudreau, who's 2-1-1 since replacing the fired Glen Hanlon last week, "and absolutely hate them when they lose."

Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point on Wednesday, ending his season-high nine-game point streak.

Ovechkin had two goals against the Hurricanes on Saturday, and a goal in Washington's 2-0 win over them on Oct. 6. He has 13 goals and eight assists in 19 career games against Carolina.

Olaf Kolzig stopped 28 shots on Wednesday before allowing four goals in the shootout. He'll likely be anxious to see this month come to a close, as he's just 3-8-1 with a 3.00 GAA in November.

Kolzig has been in net for all three games against the Hurricanes, posting a 2.59 GAA. He is 26-12-1 with eight ties and a 2.23 GAA in his career against Washington.

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