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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes have starting goaltenders who have won crucial games while leading their teams to the Stanley Cup finals within the past three seasons.

They also seem to have pretty reliable backups.

Coming off victories on the strength of dominant efforts from their second-string goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward should be back in net Thursday night when the Penguins host the Hurricanes at Mellon Arena.

Fleury led Pittsburgh (4-2-1) to the Cup finals last season, going 14-6-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and making a strong case to win the Conn Smythe Trophy before the Penguins fell to Detroit in six games.

An excellent playoff run is nothing new to Ward, who captured the Conn Smythe in 2006, leading the Hurricanes (3-1-1) to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game win over Edmonton.

With Fleury having started the Penguins' first six games, coach Michel Therrien gave Dany Sabourin a start Monday in Boston, and Sabourin was outstanding. He made 35 saves in regulation and overtime in Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout victory.

"If it wasn't for him, early on, we would have been down by two or three," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

With Ward struggling, the Hurricanes gave backup Michael Leighton his second start Sunday at Anaheim, and he responded with his second win. Leighton made 33 saves in Carolina's 3-1 victory over the Ducks.

The Hurricanes were outshot 22-10 in the final two periods.

"That was pretty ugly really," said center Rod Brind'Amour, who scored the game-winner. "We relied on our goalie way too much."

Ward is just 1-1-1 with a 3.30 GAA so far this season, but he's fared well in 11 career starts against Pittsburgh, going 7-3-1 with a 2.60 GAA.

Fleury, meanwhile, is 1-2-0 with a tie and a 2.46 GAA in four starts against Carolina.

The Hurricanes and Penguins were fifth and seventh, respectively, last season in goals, but they've both been tinkering with their lines to start the season.

Pittsburgh had scored just eight goals in its previous four contests before Saturday's game against Toronto, when Therrien decided to put star forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the same line. So far the results have been positive - Malkin has five assists and Crosby a goal and four assists in wins over the Maple Leafs and Bruins.

Moving Malkin to Crosby's wing has meant Jordan Staal is back playing his natural position of center on the second line. Staal has yet to score this season, but Therrien believes he's made progress playing with Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora.

"Definitely Jordan is a better center than a winger," Therrien told the team's official Web site. "He's good (on) both sides of the ice, he's smart, he can make plays. If he keeps getting those chances, eventually the puck will go in."

Staal has just two assists in eight career games against Carolina.

His older brother, Eric, hasn't had problems scoring against the Penguins - or anyone else for that matter. Staal, tied for the Hurricanes lead with three goals this season, has eight goals and 10 assists in 15 career games versus Pittsburgh.

Like Pittsburgh, Carolina is trying to get more consistency from its top two lines. Lately, that's meant separating Staal and Ray Whitney for the first time in recent memory. Coach Peter Laviolette has put Staal with Sergei Samsonov and Patrick Eaves, neither of whom have scored yet this season.

"Staal has had some success with Samsonov, and hopefully we can generate offense from more than just one player and do it from multiple lines," Laviolette said.

Carolina is 2-0-1 on the road this season.

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