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Maple Leafs-Hurricanes Preview @NHL
Maple Leafs-Hurricanes Preview

GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (6-4-2) at Carolina Hurricanes (8-2-1).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

The surging Carolina Hurricanes try for their sixth straight win when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the RBC Center.

Carolina, considered one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the season, also puts a 5-0 home record on the line.

The Hurricanes' overall five-game winning streak is their longest since the franchise moved from Hartford to North Carolina in 1997. The five straight victories at home match Carolina's best such run since the move.

The Hurricanes defeated Ottawa, Boston and Philadelphia at home last week. Carolina overcame two-goal deficits in all three wins, as well as in Saturday's 5-3 victory at Pittsburgh, sparking the club's rise to first place in the Northeast Division.

"There seems to be more confidence when we are down a couple goals," said left wing Ray Whitney, who scored the winner Saturday. "It seems when we play with no inhibitions, we play much better."

Down 3-1 to the Penguins with less than eight minutes to play, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley and Whitney scored in rapid succession before Justin Williams added an empty-netter in the final minute.

The emergence of Eric Staal also has been key to Carolina's success. The second overall pick in the 2003 draft leads the NHL in points with nine goals and 13 assists in 11 games. He was named NHL offensive player of the month for October.

Staal celebrated his 21st birthday Saturday with four assists against the Penguins. In the 8-6 win over Philadelphia on Friday, he recorded his first three-goal game. Staal scored one of five third-period goals for the Hurricanes.

Toronto is the last team to beat Carolina, 5-4 on Oct. 20. It looked like the Maple Leafs would fall victim to a Hurricanes comeback when they allowed two third-period goals that forced overtime, but defenseman Ken Klee scored a power-play goal with 16 seconds remaining in the extra period for a 5-4 Toronto win.

Goals have been hard to come by for the Maple Leafs since that victory, as Toronto has scored just 10 goals in going 2-2-0-1 in the last five games.

Toronto rebounded from an 8-0 rout by Ottawa on Saturday with a 2-1 home victory over Florida on Monday. The Leafs got off to a rough start, allowing a goal to former Leaf Gary Roberts 26 seconds into the game, but got the win on a third-period goal by Alexei Ponikarovsky.

The Leafs were outshot 32-24, but Ed Belfour made 31 saves, two days after he allowed five goals and was pulled midway through the Ottawa blowout.

"We looked scared to lose and kind of played a little too conservative," coach Pat Quinn said of Monday's win over Florida. "It wasn't an easy or pretty victory, but one we can certainly build off."

STANDINGS (through Nov. 2): Maple Leafs - 14 points, 3rd place (tied), 5 PB, Northeast Division. Hurricanes - 17 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Eric Lindros, 8 goals; Bryan McCabe, 12 assists and 15 points; Wade Belak, 33 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 9 goals, 13 assists and 22 points; Mike Commodore, 19 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 2): Maple Leafs - Power play: 26.5 percent (21 for 79), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.1 percent (62 for 72), 6th. Hurricanes - Power play: 21.9 percent (16 for 73), 6th. Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (52 for 65), 17th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (5-3-2, 3.51 GAA); Mikael Tellqvist (1-1-0, 2.73). Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (4-1-0, 2.58); Cam Ward (4-1-1, 3.07).

SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 20; Maple Leafs 5-4, OT. At Toronto, Brind'Amour had a breakaway in the extra period but fanned on his shot before Klee thwarted Carolina's comeback with his goal.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 2-1-1 on the road; Hurricanes - 5-0-0 at home.

Associated Press
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