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Hurricanes-Capitals Preview @NHLdotcom

The struggling Carolina Hurricanes are on the playoff bubble a season after winning their first Stanley Cup championship. They hope a four-day layoff will allow them to get back enough key players to spark a turnaround.

Carolina looks to improve its postseason chances when it visits the slumping Washington Capitals on Friday in a Southeast Division matchup.

The Hurricanes (33-28-7) have dropped three of their last four games, totaling just three goals in the defeats. They're among a pack of teams fighting for the final postseason spot in the tightly contested Eastern Conference.

Carolina outshot Atlanta 35-25 on Sunday, including 15-9 in the final period, but lost 3-1 to the Thrashers. Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette sought to maximize the effect of the ensuing four-day break, giving his players the day off Monday and Tuesday. Weary Carolina played four games in six days before the time off.

"We played our games early and some we had success in and some we didn't," Laviolette told the team's official website. "Everybody plays the same amount of games, there's no fairness or unfairness to this process.

"When we hit the ground Friday it's going to be real important that we're still hanging around, we're still in it and we give ourselves an opportunity where we're in charge and in control of what we do."

The Hurricanes will get forward Erik Cole back to help that cause after he missed the last seven games with a torn hip muscle. The right wing was activated from injured reserve Thursday and has enjoyed recent success against the Capitals, recording six goals and four assists in the last five meetings.

Forward Ray Whitney, who leads Carolina with 73 points, is day-to-day with a sore ankle that caused him to miss his first game of the season Sunday, while defenseman Bret Hedican has been sidelined the last two contests with a lower-body injury.

The Hurricanes could certainly use an offensive boost after converting just one of 32 power-play opportunities in the last seven games. Their penalty killing has been strong, though, thwarting 27 of 28 chances over the last eight contests.

Carolina will face a Washington club that is trying to avoid matching its season-high six-game losing streak of Nov. 15-25. The Capitals (24-31-12) have lost 10 of their last 11 and are 5-14-5 since Jan. 11.

Two of the rare wins during that stretch have come against the Hurricanes, and the teams have split their six meetings this season - all of which were decided by three or more goals. Alexander Semin recorded two goals and an assist, while Alexander Ovechkin added a goal and an assist to lead Washington to a 7-3 win in the last matchup Jan. 27.

Semin has nine goals and 13 points in 11 meetings with the Hurricanes, giving him his most goals and tying him for his highest point total against any opponent.

Ovechkin and Semin lead the Capitals with 80 and 59 points, respectively, but both players were shut down Tuesday in a 3-0 loss to Toronto.

Frederic Cassivi, called up from Hershey of the AHL to back up Brent Johnson, made 28 saves in his first start of the season as No. 1 goalie Olaf Kolzig remains sidelined with a knee injury.

"We're playing some young kids, and we've improved defensively but, as you could see, we're challenged offensively," said Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, whose squad was blanked on five chances with the man advantage. "We've got to at least generate something on the power play, and that didn't happen either."

Washington has also been without right wing Chris Clark (shoulder) for the past six games and left wing Matt Pettinger (broken right thumb) for the last two.

The Hurricanes and Caps and meet for the final time March 22 in Raleigh.

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