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Skinner, Ward help Hurricanes hold off Predators

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes are not where they want to be in the standings, but after a 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators at PNC Arena on Tuesday, they have reason to believe they can inch their way into Stanley Cup Playoff contention.

"It should send a message to our team," said Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, who made 32 saves. "We're playing some pretty good hockey teams. Not only are we hanging with them, we've got every chance to win games. It's a confidence-booster. We can feel really happy about tonight."

The Hurricanes (8-13-3) split a weekend series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the co-leaders of the Metropolitan Division.

"We can compete with anybody," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "We need to believe that and stay consistent."

The first period was slow-moving until Carolina forward Jeff Skinner scored with 1:01 remaining. From along the boards, Andrej Nestrasil spun and sent a backhand pass to the low slot, where Skinner tipped the puck with an extended stick.

"I was calling for it so I don't know if he heard me and just threw it there," Skinner said. "Obviously a great pass and I just tried to get my stick on it. It's a good bounce I guess."

Carolina looked sharp in the second period. Although neither team scored, the Hurricanes played a full period ahead, something they have rarely done this season.

"I like the way we played with the lead," Staal said. "We played the same way regardless. We did that in Pittsburgh as well. We continued to get aggressive on the forecheck and attack."

Clinging to a 1-0 lead entering the third period, the Hurricanes made it a two-goal advantage on a Victor Rask slap shot that handcuffed Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne at 55 seconds. The puck was deflected by Predators defenseman Roman Josi.

"I was just going to put it on the net," Rask said. "I got lucky that it hit the D-man's stick, and the goalie couldn't react from that."

Skinner started the play with a lead pass through the neutral zone.

"It was huge (that) we were able to play with the lead for a long time," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. Your young guys are a little more relaxed and you're not pressing quite as much. You don't feel like you have to score on each opportunity."

Nashville's Mike Ribeiro cut the lead to 2-1 with 4:46 remaining when he gloved a pass in the slot and deked to his backhand.

The Predators played the final 60 seconds on the power play with Carolina forward Riley Nash off for hooking. With Rinne pulled, giving Nashville a 6-on-4 skating advantage, Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera blocked James Neal's shot with two seconds remaining.

"I thought we got some looks (on the 6-on-4), but it didn't happen," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've got to move on. It wasn't from a lack of effort or a lack of looks."

The Predators (16-6-2) had a four-game winning streak end.

"You've got to give Carolina some credit, they were really tight defensively," Laviolette said. "There weren't a lot of Grade A opportunities for us tonight. They were pretty quick to defense and shutting things down. We can be better, but we couldn't catch them."

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