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Predators continue homestand with visit from 'Canes

by Brian Hunter

HURRICANES (11-23-7) at PREDATORS (25-15-3)

Last 10 -- Carolina 4-5-1; Nashville 6-4-0

Season series -- This is the only meeting of the season between the Hurricanes and Predators. Nashville won 5-2 at Carolina on Nov. 23, 2008, as Jason Arnott and Shea Weber each scored twice. Dan Ellis finished with 24 saves. This is just the fifth visit to Music City by the Hurricanes since Nashville joined the NHL in 1998.

Big story
-- This is the third of a four-game homestand for Nashville, which then hits the road for seven of its next eight. The Predators came out of the holiday break with a home-and-home against the Central Division-leading Blackhawks and the chance to tie for first if they swept. Instead, the Predators got swept and begin play Thursday eighth in the Western Conference, with a number of teams creeping up on them. It might not be as easy getting up for a game against the woeful Hurricanes as it would the Blackhawks or Red Wings, but these are two points Nashville can ill afford to let slip away.

Team Scope:

-- Carolina has had four days off since completing a hard-fought home-and-home with the New York Rangers in which the road team won both games by 2-1 scores. The Hurricanes took the second half Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden on a Ray Whitney goal with 1:15 left in overtime. They also won their previous road game in Washington, 6-3.

"We're on a roll," coach Paul Maurice said. "We won our last two, and goaltending was the difference in both. Cam Ward was really good."

-- After starting off the homestand with a 3-1 win over Anaheim, Nashville lost 3-1 to Calgary on Tuesday as Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 27 shots. Patric Hornqvist scored the Predators' lone goal.

"We had to be a little bit more emotionally determined," coach Barry Trotz said. "They were doing a really good job defensively. They were on the puck; they were skating well; they were hanging onto it and doing all the little things. In the third you saw that little bit of extra determination -- we drew penalties, we got more chances -- that is sometimes the difference when two clubs match up pretty well. We got it to a one-goal game, and we got some chances with six minutes to go, but 'close' won't get us any points."

Who's hot
-- Whitney has a three-game points streak for the Hurricanes. Ward stopped 60 of 63 shots in the two games against the Rangers, a .952 save percentage. … Hornqvist has scored goals in eight of his last 11 games. He has 14 for the season, tying him with Martin Erat for the team lead.

Injury report
-- Carolina will be without forward Eric Staal, who was granted a leave of absence from the team following the death of his sister-in-law. The team is already minus defenseman Joe Corvo (leg) and forwards Erik Cole (upper body), Chad LaRose (lower body) and Scott Walker (shoulder), all of whom are on injured reserve. Forward Sergei Samsonov (upper body) is also likely to miss Thursday's game. … Erat remains out for Nashville with a knee injury. Fellow forwards Jordin Tootoo (foot) and Jerred Smithson (hand) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack
-- Although he hasn't played in more than a week, Erat still leads the Predators in scoring with 27 points. Four other players have 26 -- Arnott, Steve Sullivan, J.P. Dumont and David Legwand -- and in total Nashville has nine players with at least 20 points.

Puck drop
-- Staal's absence further depletes the Carolina roster, but Ward could be the X-factor in this game. If he plays as well as he has the past several games, the Hurricanes may have the chance to steal a victory.



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