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Red-hot Rangers host struggling 'Canes

by Dave Lozo

HURRICANES (5-7-3) at RANGERS (8-3-3)

FS-Carolinas (HD), MSG (HD)

Last 10:
Carolina 3-5-2; New York 7-2-1

Season Series:
This is the first of four meetings. The Hurricanes didn't suffer a regulation loss against the Rangers last season, going 2-0-2.

Big Story: The Hurricanes can't win; the Rangers can't lose. Carolina has lost three in a row, while New York has won five straight. After this game, the Rangers will start a four-game road trip, but the first stop and only game the will play over an eight-day stretch will be against the New York Islanders.

Team Scope:

When nothing is going right, changes need to be made. Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice made plenty of them at practice Thursday.

Maurice shuffled the lines, breaking up Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal and putting them on separate lines. Staal skated with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Zach Boychuk. Skinner was with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury.

Maurice talked about why Boychuk will get the chance to play with Staal.

"Probably his best game for us last year was in New York on (Staal's) line," Maurice told Chip Alexander of the Charlotte Observer. "He had a heck of a first period the other night, and then I thought that line and his game in New Jersey was in the top two or three performances up front in terms of what we're trying to do.

Rangers: Clearly it's debatable which line would be consider the Rangers' No. 1 group -- the one with Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov, or the one with Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

Based on production, it looks like the Rangers signed a No. 2 center in Richards, because the Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik line has been producing at an incredible rate of late. The trio has combined for six goals and seven assists the past two games and scored all three goals in the Rangers' 3-2 win in Ottawa on Wednesday.

"I think there's a (sense of chemistry)," said Gaborik, who started the season on a line with Richards but has flourished since being moved. "When there's a chance when Stepan or (Anisimov) can make a play, it's great. Step made a nice fake on the (second goal) and he just dished to me and I had an open net. As long as we keep working and keep forechecking, things are happening."

Who's Hot: Hurricanes winger Chad LaRose has three goals in his past four games, but he won't be with Staal against the Rangers. … Clearly the Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik line has been on fire for the Rangers, but an underrated player during this five-game winning streak for the Rangers is defenseman Dan Girardi. He has one goal, two assists and is plus-4 while playing about 28 minutes per game.

Injury Report: The Hurricanes are healthy with the return of forward Jussi Jokinen, but the Rangers are without Mike Rupp (knee surgery) and Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery) for at least four weeks.

Stat Pack:
One reason for these teams being at opposite ends of the standings is defense. The Rangers are third in goals allowed (2.07) while the Hurricanes are 26th (3.27). The Rangers also rank eighth in takeaways (116) while the Hurricanes are 29th with 68.

Puck Drop: "I wouldn't sit here and say our line created all the momentum. I think of some of the other things that you guys really don't take into account, the other lines were doing." -- Derek Stepan, after the Rangers' win in Ottawa

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