BUFFALO -- With the Olympic break over, the NHL season is heading into the stretch run. The Carolina Hurricanes start their push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes enter the game three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, and they'll have starting goalie Cam Ward back in the lineup.
Ward hasn't played since Dec. 31 against the Montreal Canadiens because of a lower-body injury. He was the first goalie off at the morning skate and appears likely to start.
"I think it's going to be a lot like the first game of the year," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "Everyone has high expectations. It's like a clean slate. On our part everyone is healthy. We just mentioned to our guys, right from the drop of the puck, I assume the intensity is going to be high and everyone's going to be recharged restarting, and it's going to be full bore from here to the end now."
Carolina went into the break having won six of the past nine games with backup Anton Khudobin getting the bulk of the work. The Hurricanes are hoping the strong play they went into the Olympic break with carries over.
"For us it's about starting off on the right foot and then following it through," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "It's just about getting into our game and playing structured. It's about being ourselves and going about it day by day."
Injury recovery was important for the Sabres during the Olympic break as well. Forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick and defenseman Tyler Myers all return to the lineup against the Hurricanes.
"It's great. The break gave a lot of guys some time to heal up from some injuries," Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. "Finally, it seems like we've got some guys coming back."
Moulson will rejoin Stafford and Tyler Ennis on the team's top line.
"Drew's been playing awesome," Ennis said. "We've been having some good chemistry lately and adding [Moulson] back in the fold will just improve things. I know we've had a long break and some time off, so hopefully we can get the rust off early."
One player who will sit out against Carolina is defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who returned Monday after playing for Sweden in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he wanted to give Tallinder an extra day to recover from travel. John Scott will take his place on defense.
Ryan Miller was the first goalie off at the morning skate and will start. Miller played in one game at the Olympics for the United States.
"He's doing OK," Nolan said. "Coming from that far of a distance, the time zone is probably the toughest part. He's a pro and he'll fight through it. … I think the biggest thing is you're a little bit foggy from the travel. Hopefully, he'll knock the fog out through the pregame skate tonight and be real good for us."
Here are the projected lineups for the Hurricanes and Sabres:
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner - Riley Nash - Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Radek Dvorak - Manny Malhotra - Drayson Bowman
Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles - Ron Hainsey
Jay Harrison - Brett Bellemore
Scratched: Mike Komisarek, Elias Lindholm
Injured: Joni Pitkanen (heel)
Matt Moulson - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Steve Ott - Cody Hodgson - Matt D'Agostini
Marcus Foligno - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Flynn
Matt Ellis - Cody McCormick - Ville Leino
Tyler Myers - Mike Weber
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer
Jamie McBain - John Scott
Scratched: Henrik Tallinder, Zenon Konopka