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The Carolina Hurricanes are just three points out of first place in the Southeast Division, but general manager Jim Rutherford didn't see his team playing with the confidence needed to make a Stanley Cup run.

In an effort to revive the team, Rutherford fired coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Paul Maurice, who begins his second stint with the Hurricanes on Thursday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Laviolette led Carolina (12-11-2) to its only Stanley Cup title in 2006, but it has not made the playoffs since - becoming the only team in the league's modern history to miss the playoffs two straight years after winning it all.

The Hurricanes opened this season in strong fashion by going 8-4-2, but have dropped seven of 11 since. Laviolette was fired on Wednesday, three days after a 4-1 loss to Anaheim - Carolina's fourth defeat in five games.

"We have a team that right now that, in my opinion, is not playing with the kind of confidence it needs," Rutherford said. "We've lost that confidence.

"It's really not about the last four or five games. It's about changing to get the chemistry back on our team, to get the confidence back on our team and make what I would say minor adjustments in a system that really worked in the Stanley Cup year. But teams have adjusted to it, and our team hasn't adjusted over the last couple of years."

The 41-year-old Maurice returns to Carolina after being fired by the franchise on Dec. 15, 2003. He led the former Hartford Whalers through their move to North Carolina in 1997, coached the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup final in 2002, and won 268 games with the organization.

Maurice, who also coached in Toronto, takes over a team that's in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Hurricanes have not had much luck at home lately, having been outscored 12-4 while losing three straight at the RBC Center.

Carolina hopes a visit from the Penguins (14-6-4) can help end the slide, as the Hurricanes have won four straight home games over them, and seven of the last eight meetings there.

In their first meeting this season on Oct. 23, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh's 4-1 home win.

The Penguins are coming off Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh dropped six points back of the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers with the defeat, and has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games after winning its previous six.

"It's a frustrating loss," said Mark Eaton, who scored his first goal since April 8, 2006. "They were able to capitalize on the rest of their chances and we couldn't."

Crosby assisted on Eaton's tally, and has six goals and four assists during a four-game point streak. Crosby is second in the NHL with 35 points, four behind Malkin, who was held without a point for just the fourth time this season on Wednesday.

Malkin has three goals and three assists in his last three games against the Hurricanes

Pittsburgh's Dany Sabourin made 25 saves against New York, and is 2-1-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average since starter Marc-Andre Fleury has been out with an undisclosed injury.

Sabourin is 1-1-0 with a 2.92 GAA in three career games against the Hurricanes.

Carolina starting goalie Cam Ward is expected to miss this game after injuring his groin against the Ducks.

Backup Michael Leighton replaced Ward, and stopped 11 of 14 shots. Leighton, who has a 4.17 GAA in losing his last three games, made 31 saves in the loss to the Penguins in October.

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