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Hurricanes continue late push against Blue Jackets

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (30-29-15) at BLUE JACKETS (23-43-7)


Last 10:
Carolina 6-2-2; Columbus 5-5-0

Season Series:
This is the only meeting of the season between the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets. It's been a little more than a year since their last matchup, in which Columbus recorded a 3-2 win in Carolina on March 12, 2011, with Derek MacKenzie netting a pair of goals.

Big Story:
At the start of February, it appeared this might be a battle between the last-place teams in their respective conferences, but Carolina is 12-4-6 since then, enters Friday's action on a four-game winning streak and has climbed all the way to 11th in the East, still mathematically alive for a playoff berth in spite of the long odds.

Team Scope:

Ironically, playing spoiler down the stretch has helped Carolina creep closer to the top eight. After pulling out a one-goal victory in Winnipeg on Sunday, the Hurricanes returned home to the PNC Arena and kept first-place Florida from extending its lead in the Southeast with a 3-1 win. Eric Staal scored twice -- a goal 46 seconds into the first period and a power-play tally for insurance in the third -- and defenseman Joni Pitkanen lit the lamp in his return after missing 44 games due to a concussion and knee surgery, picking up the game-winner in the second.

"That's not easy to miss that much time and step into a game this late in the year and that big of a game. It looks like he never missed a game," coach Kirk Muller said. "A really strong game for his first game back, and he made us a better team tonight."

Blue Jackets: The goaltending job down the stretch has fallen back to Steve Mason with veteran Curtis Sanford likely lost for the season due to a torn quadriceps. Mason relieved Sanford in Calgary on Sunday and helped engineer a shootout win for Columbus, but he couldn't build on that effort in a 5-1 home loss Tuesday to Chicago. Mason was beaten three times in the first 8:22 of the game as the Blue Jackets fell in an early hole, and two more in the first 4:09 of the third. Rick Nash scored with 7:29 remaining for the Jackets' only offense.

"They really outplayed us today, and it was mostly just effort," forward Jared Boll said in the Columbus Dispatch. "They were winning battles and doing the little things right and we were turning over pucks and giving them chances. They buried us."

Who's Hot:
Staal continues to reclaim what was shaping up to be a lost season with consecutive 2-goal games for the Hurricanes. He has 6 points in the last three games. Cam Ward has won his last three starts and posted a .962 save percentage over that span. … Jack Johnson has 1 goal and 2 assists over his last three games for the Blue Jackets.

Injury Report:
Carolina forward Andreas Nodl was out of the lineup Wednesday with concussion-like symptoms, while defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (lower body) has missed four of the last five games. … In addition to Sanford, the list for Columbus includes MacKenzie (concussion) as well as defensemen Fedor Tyutin (hand) and James Wisniewski (concussion-like symptoms).

Stat Pack:
The Hurricanes' offense has been consistent over the past several games, as they've scored at least one goal in 10 consecutive periods. … Nash's goal against the Blackhawks was his 25th of the season, making it eight straight seasons in which the Blue Jackets captain has reached that mark.

Puck Drop:
Staal needs only 4 points over Carolina's final eight games to reach 70 for the seventh consecutive season, something that seemed unlikely after his rough start.

"I really think he knows where he is with this organization: he's our leader," Muller said. "He leads by example. I think he's having fun. I think he loves playing."
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