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Hurricanes look to continue surge as they face Leafs

by John McGourty
HURRICANES (24-30-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (19-31-11)

Last 10 -- Carolina 8-2-0; Toronto 2-6-2

Season series -- This is the last of four meetings this season. Carolina won two of the previous three games. Toronto's rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson made 34 saves for his second NHL win on Nov. 6 in Raleigh. Defenseman Tim Gleason had two goals as Carolina rallied from three goals down to win a 6-5 shootout on Nov. 19 in Raleigh. The Maple Leafs outshot the Hurricanes but lost 4-2 in Toronto on Jan. 12.

Big story -- On the surface, this is a matchup between the two bottom teams in the Eastern Conference, but Carolina is tied with Ottawa for the best record in the conference over the past 10 games (8-2-0). They have won five-straight and nine of 11. But they are nine points out of a playoff spot and are sellers in the trade market. Ray Whitney is their top trade bait, but he has a no-trade clause and has already nixed one deal. Toronto is also a seller and defenseman Tomas Kaberle is its most sought after commodity. Kaberle too has a no-trade clause and refused to be dealt last year. Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak have also been mentioned as trade possibilities.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes -- The Hurricanes have already traded center Matt Cullen to Ottawa and defenseman Niclas Wallin to San Jose. Defensemen Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward and Andrew Alberts have been mentioned in deals. GM Jim Rutherford said 10 teams contacted him in the past four days prior to the trading deadline. This game takes place 43 hours after the trading deadline was lifted, so there could be quite a few lineup changes, or none. But expect some changes.

Maple Leafs -- Fans remain frustrated as the team approaches its fifth-straight season out of the playoffs. Unlike past seasons though, there is hope. GM Brian Burke has cleared out a lot of dead wood and found his cornerstone goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and cornerstone defenseman, Dion Phaneuf. Winners are built from the goal out and this is an excellent start. Forward Mikhail Grabovski missed the past 19 games with a broken wrist, went to Vancouver and got in a fight. GM Brian Burke said Grabovski is "stupid but healthy." Grabovski may have bought his ticket out of town.

Who's hot --
Whitney has three goals and seven points in five games for Carolina. Eric Staal has 20 points in 15 games. Jussi Jokinen has eight goals and 12 points in nine games. Brandon Sutter has eight points in nine games. Goalie Manny Legace went 3-0 with a .915 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average in Ward's absence while rookie Justin Peters started his NHL career 2-0 with a 1.51 GAA and .950 save percentage. … Toronto right wing Phil Kessel has seven points in four games. Center Tyler Bozak has five points in five games.

Injury report -- Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has missed five games with an upper-body injury. Right wing Erik Cole has been out since Dec. 9 with an upper-body injury. Right wing Chad LaRose has missed seven games with an undisclosed injury. Right wing Scott Walker has missed 21 games since January shoulder surgery.

Grabovski broke his wrist on Jan. 3. Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek is out of the season after Jan. 10 shoulder surgery. Defenseman Mike Van Ryn is out for the season after Sept. 28 knee surgery. 

Stat pack --
Bad team defense has hurt both clubs this season. Carolina is 15th in offense and Toronto is 17th but the Hurricanes are 27th in goals allowed and Toronto is 29th.

Puck Drop --
Ward's back problems are troubling. The winner of the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy suffered back spasms during the playoffs last year and during this year's preseason. The pain became too great during the Feb. 3 game in Calgary and Ward, 26, was forced to leave the team to return to Raleigh for an exam. It was thought he might miss the rest of the season but a report last week said he may return in a few weeks.

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