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Hurricanes return home to host Blues

by Sean McCullen

BLUES (36-11-5) at HURRICANES (24-20-9)


Last 10: St. Louis 6-4-0; Carolina 6-4-0

Season series: The St. Louis Blues beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at Scottrade Center on Nov. 16 in the first of two games between the teams.

Big story: With a win in Raleigh, the Blues would pull even with the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Central Division standings at 79 points with three games in hand. The Hurricanes would jump over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers into third place in the Metropolitan Division with a win against the Blues.

Team Scope:

Blues: St. Louis has won three in a row since being routed by the New Jersey Devils 7-1 in snowy Newark on Jan. 21. The Blues got a measure of revenge against the Devils on Tuesday, when Jaroslav Halak made 23 saves in a 3-0 shutout.

On Tuesday, T.J. Oshie and Jaden Schwartz switched lines, with Oshie joining Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi as Schwartz skated with Oshie's regular linemates, David Backes and Alexander Steen. The team used the new lines in spurts during its four-game road trip before going to them predominantly in the rematch with New Jersey.

Coach Ken Hitchcock enjoys the flexibility Oshie offers him when putting together his lineup.

"I think, depending on the game, depending on the score, that's the flexibility we work with," Hitchcock said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We did it against the [New York] Islanders a little bit, we did it a couple of shifts against the [New York] Rangers. I think you're going to see constant movement there all year. … Oshie is the guy who can play left, right and center. He can play in a checking role or a scoring role. Oshie's the guy who can provide us with flexibility."

Hurricanes: Carolina's four-game winning streak came to an end in a 3-0 road loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. The Hurricanes return home to PNC Arena, where they are 13-10-5 overall and 5-2-0 in 2014, for their next four games.

Goalie Cam Ward, who has missed the past 13 games with a lower-body injury, could return at the end of the homestand. He practiced with the team Thursday after being activated off injured reserve, but was assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint.

Ward will likely play a game or two with the Checkers, coach Kirk Muller said.

"I think it's important that he's going to go down and play a couple of games with Charlotte," Muller said. "I think that will be great for him for the big reason that health-wise … this is his first practice that he's had, so we gave him the net for the full 40 minutes to get the timing and endurance back. The opportunity to go down there and play will get him in a good mindset of where he feels. The biggest thing health-wise is that he can get through a game and he feels good and he feels comfortable."

Who's hot: Halak has won his past three starts with a 1.31 goals-against average and 90 saves on 94 shots (.957 save percentage). … Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera has five assists and six points in the past five games.

Injury report: Steen (lower body) has missed the past few practices, but will likely play. … With the exception of Ward, Carolina reports a healthy lineup.

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