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Hurricanes, seeking weekend sweep, host Predators

by Mike Battaglino

PREDATORS (18-18-6) at HURRICANES (17-16-9)


Last 10: Nashville 3-4-3; Carolina 4-3-3

Season series: Jeff Skinner had his first career hat trick in the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 5.

Big story: Carolina could be without captain Eric Staal, who left a 3-2 win against the New York Islanders on Saturday in the second period with a lower-body injury. Staal had five points (one goal) in the previous two games and has missed one game over the past three seasons.

"It's not easy when the big man goes down," Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal, Eric's younger brother, told the News & Observer. "It creates a big hole, but you've got to stick with it and do what you do."

Team Scope:

Predators: Nashville is about 540 miles west of Raleigh, N.C., where Carolina plays, and the Predators reside in the Western Conference.

Despite similar records and nearly identical point totals, Carolina is a Stanley Cup Playoff contender in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference, among five teams in a tight race for third place, and Nashville sits last in the Central Division, 14 points behind the third-place Colorado Avalanche.

The Predators do have a point in four straight games (2-0-2) after losing five in a row (0-4-1).

"We [have] to eliminate those five-game losing streaks and we're in a totally different situation," defenseman Shea Weber told The Tennessean. "You take those two out and mix in a couple of wins there and we're in a different situation. We have to look at the positives."

Coach Barry Trotz would not say if goalie Marek Mazanec would play again after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday or if Carter Hutton would be back in net for the first time since Dec. 27.

Hurricanes: Center Brett Sutter was recalled Thursday from Charlotte of the American Hockey League, in part to fill in for Riley Nash, who sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

But when Staal left the game Saturday, Sutter found himself on the top line between Skinner and Alexander Semin and scored his first NHL goal since Dec. 23, 2008.

"It's been a gutsy three games ... we've gone with three centers three games in a row," coach Kirk Muller said. "It's a lot to ask from them, especially a guy like [Sutter] that's come up from the minors. You know what they did, they got the job done the last three games, especially tonight."

Goalie Justin Peters likely will play after Anton Khudobin made 38 saves against the Islanders.

Who's hot: Skinner had an assist following a two-goal game and a hat trick. Hurricanes forward Manny Malhotra had a goal Saturday and has four points in a three-game streak. Defenseman Andrej Sekera has five points in his past five games. … Predators forward Mike Fisher has nine points during a four-game streak. Forward Colin Wilson has six points in five games. Defensemen Seth Jones and Weber, and forward Patric Hornqvist, each have five in four.

Injury report: Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (lower body) will not return Sunday. Defenseman Jay Harrison (concussion) skated with the team Thursday. Nash (lower body) is at least a week away from returning, and forward Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) will be out 2-3 weeks. ... Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (hip) is out.

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