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Maple Leafs host Hurricanes in Winter Classic warmup

by Davis Harper

HURRICANES (14-15-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (19-16-5)


Last 10: Carolina 3-3-4; Toronto 3-5-2

Season series: This is the second of three games between the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes beat Toronto 3-2 at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 17 on Ron Hainsey's wacky goal. The Carolina defenseman fired the puck from his own end on a clearing attempt only to have it bounce off the end boards, off goalie Jonathan Bernier's skate and into the net.

Big story: The Hurricanes could've used some of those lucky bounces in recent games. Carolina has lost seven of eight, with four overtime losses in that span, to slide to 12th in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Maple Leafs will play their final game before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Toronto has played in four consecutive shootouts, winning two and losing two.

"It's not easy winning in the NHL. It proves it night in and night out," coach Randy Carlyle said after a 4-3 shootout win Friday against the Buffalo Sabres. "There are a lot of shootouts taking place. We're at four in a row now. …I think we've won two and lost two in the last four. Do we like shootouts? No."

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Too many times this season, the Hurricanes have settled for one point when they should have earned two. Carolina is 1-6 in games decided in overtime and 1-3 in shootouts. An inability to finish games doomed the Hurricanes again Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Carolina outshot the Penguins 32-26 and dominated large swaths of the first and second periods, taking a 2-1 lead into the third. The Penguins wouldn't be denied in the third, however, scoring twice to take the lead. Drayson Bowman tied it late for Carolina, but James Neal ripped the game-winner 1:03 into overtime.

"Starting the third [period], you can't be afraid to have the lead and play," coach Kirk Muller said. "You have to keep playing like the first two periods. You can't sit back. That's what we've tried to emphasize."

Maple Leafs: The approach to this season's Winter Classic between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings has been less than stellar for both storied franchises, especially Toronto. The Maple Leafs are 5-6-2 in December and 2-2-2 over their past six.

Against an NHL-worst Buffalo team Friday, the Maple Leafs erased a 2-0 deficit with three second-period goals, but allowed the Sabres to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. Joffrey Lupul scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win.

"We'll take what we can get," defenseman Cody Franson told reporters. "We know that it's not a full 60-minute win, and that's what we're building towards. But there's no point in dwelling on the negatives when you win. We're aware there's room for improvement for sure. But we're happy we won."

Who's hot: Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner has 10 goals in December. … Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier is 1-0-2 with a 1.72 goals-against average his past three appearances.

Injury report: Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) will miss three weeks. Defensemen Jay Harrison (concussion) and Joni Pitkanen (heel) are out indefinitely. … For Toronto, forward Trevor Smith (hand) and center Dave Bolland (ankle) are on injured reserve.

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