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Hurricanes-Blackhawks Preview @NHLdotcom

During his last trip to Chicago, Cam Ward helped the Carolina Hurricanes win their season-high fifth straight game.

With Ward in the midst of an impressive run, the Hurricanes return to the United Center again searching for a season-best fifth consecutive victory in their only matchup this season with the Blackhawks.

The Hurricanes (36-27-5) have won eight of their last 10 games and are tied with Florida for seventh in the Eastern Conference - one point behind surging Pittsburgh and one ahead of the New York Rangers.

Carolina, which was three points shy of reaching the playoffs last season and missed by five in 2006-07, has outscored its opponents 23-6 during a four-game win streak. The Hurricanes are 7-for-23 on the power play and have killed off 14 of 15 penalties, including 11 straight.

They have also gotten stellar play from Ward, who has allowed 19 goals in his last 10 starts and has a 1.50 goals-against average in the four consecutive victories. In Monday night's 3-0 win over the New York Rangers, Ward stopped 28 shots for his fifth shutout of the season.

"It was a playoff game, in our eyes," Ward said. "Look at the standings. Everybody knows what's at stake."

One of his 11 career shutouts came in his only meeting with the Blackhawks - a 3-0 victory on March 12, 2008, that capped Carolina's previous five-game win streak. Another strong effort in his 16th straight start could keep the Hurricanes from losing to Chicago for the first time in 10 seasons.

Since a 2-1 defeat at the United Center on April 3, 1999, Carolina is 7-0-0 with one tie against the Blackhawks, including four straight wins in Chicago.

A balanced offense has aided Ward as 12 different Hurricanes have scored during the win streak, with Eric Staal's five goals leading the way.

They'll face a struggling Blackhawks defense that's given up 26 goals in its last seven games. Chicago (36-19-9) has gone 2-4-1 in that span and has seen its lead on fourth in the West cut to five points over Vancouver following a 5-1 loss Sunday to last-place Colorado.

The Blackhawks managed only Jonathan Toews' second-period goal and Antti Niemi stopped just 24 of 29 shots in his third career appearance.

"I think a game like today's reminds you that there are no games that you can take for granted," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "The last 20 games will be harder than the first 62."

With Nikolai Khabibulin still recovering from a groin injury, Quenneville will likely go back to Cristobal Huet, who has been a source of Chicago's defensive woes. After starting 4-1-0 with a 1.41 GAA in Khabibulin's absence, Huet has allowed 17 goals in his last five appearances, going 1-3-0.

In 10 lifetime games against the Hurricanes, he is 5-2-0 with one tie and has won three straight.

The Blackhawks' offense could take a hit if they lose Martin Havlat for an extended period. Havlat, who is day-to-day after suffering a lower-body injury Sunday, was second on team with 57 points and tied for third with 21 goals behind Toews' 28 and Patrick Sharp's 23.

With a lower-body injury keeping Sharp out indefinitely, it might be up to Toews and Patrick Kane to carry the scoring load. While Toews has 12 goals and 18 points in past 13 games, Kane has a goal and three assists in his last five.

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