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Sabres, Hurricanes restart NHL season

by Mike G. Morreale

HURRICANES (26-22-9) at SABRES (15-34-8)


Last 10: Carolina 6-4-0; Buffalo 2-7-1

Season series: The second of three games between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres. The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 7 at First Niagara Center but had to be postponed until Feb. 25 due to a snowstorm. On Jan. 23, Alexander Semin scored two goals and Andrej Sekera had a goal and two assists to give Carolina a 5-3 win.

Big story: NHL players and coaches were back at work this week following the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Players from each side were glad to get back on the ice after some much-needed rest in preparation for the stretch run. Carolina returned to practice Thursday and Buffalo was back on the ice Friday following the return of coach Ted Nolan, who coached Latvia in Sochi. The Sabres and Hurricanes will play 25 games over the course of 48 days to close out the regular season.

"It has been a long break, but we're not that far removed," Carolina captain Eric Staal told the Hurricanes website. "The rust comes off a lot quicker here than a summer break."

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: A five-game road swing will feature games against Buffalo, the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Carolina, which has won seven of the past 11 games, dropped a 4-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens in its final game before the Olympic break. The Hurricanes are sixth in the Metropolitan Division and trail the fifth-place Washington Capitals by two points with two games in hand. The Hurricanes are three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second and final wild card playoff spot.

"With the way we are in the standings and how tight it is, we're going to have to step into this road trip and go with it," forward Jordan Staal said. "It's going to be a really big test for us."

Carolina coach Kirk Muller is looking forward to getting back to work.

"It's a restart button for everybody," Muller told the Hurricanes website. "Our goal is to make the playoffs, and we're going to need everybody."

Sabres: The Sabres begin a three-game home stand and are looking to snap a four-game losing streak (0-4-0). Nolan arrived in Buffalo on Thursday evening following his team's 2-1 loss to Canada in the quarterfinal round. Zemgus Girgensons, who played for Latvia, told the Sabres website he was proud of the effort his country exhibited against heavily-favored Canada.

"We believed in ourselves since the first day we got there and even before. Just looking at the paper, I knew that's the best team Latvia probably has had in a long time," Girgensons said. "I was hoping we can accomplish something good."

Nolan feels Girgensons will take a lot from his Olympic experience into the final quarter of the NHL season.

"We had some pretty good leadership on that team so Zemgus being around that, being so young, I think [for] his growth, it's almost like adding another year on to his experience," Nolan said.

Who's hot: Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner ranks tied for sixth in the NHL with six game-winning goals. He also leads his team with 23 goals. … Forward Drew Stafford has six goals and nine points in the past seven games for the Sabres.

Injury report: Hurricanes defenseman John-Michael Liles (lower body) is questionable. … Defenseman Tyler Myers (lower body) and forwards Cody McCormick (upper body) and Matt Moulson (ribs) appear ready to get back in the lineup.

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