Boston, Columbus, Buffalo, the New York Islanders …
That’s the stretch of four games the Carolina Hurricanes have in front of them, starting with Sunday’s game against the Bruins. All are at home, all against Eastern Conference teams.
“It’s nice to get some home games and we’ve been playing good at home,” said center Victor Rask, who will play his 200th NHL game Sunday for the Canes. “We need to keep building on that and hopefully we can get some fans coming in here.”
The Canes (17-15-7) on Sunday morning were six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They also have three teams between them and the Flyers in the standings including the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and have played as many games (39) as the Canes.
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“These homestands are very key for us,” forward Brock McGinn said. “We have a really good home record right now and we just want to keep that going. Some big wins now would definitely help our playoff push.”
The Canes are 11-4-1 at home this season, picking up a 3-2 overtime win over the Bruins on Dec. 23 at PNC Arena, the final game before the Christmas break. Things did not go as smoothly for Carolina immediately after the break with defenseman Justin Faulk out four games with an injury, but Faulk has returned and forward Elias Lindholm, who has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, should play in the coming week.
The Canes are coming off back-to-back games on the road, beating the St. Louis Blues 4-2, then losing 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks, two of the best Western Conference teams.
“The effort was real good, both nights, no question about that,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
The power-play execution has been not so good of late for Carolina. Jeff Skinner did score a power-play goal against St. Louis, but the Blackhawks game was decided by special teams — the ‘Hawks scored a power-play goal while the Canes were 0-3 with a man advantage.
Skinner’s score is the Canes’ only power-play goal in the past nine games, Carolina going 1-for-23.
The Bruins (21-17-4) won on the road Saturday, shutting out the Florida Panthers 4-0 as Tuukka Rask had 25 saves in his fifth shutout of the season and Brad Marchand scored twice. Former Canes forward Riley Nash also picked up his second goal of the season.
Goalie Anton Khudobin has started both games against the Canes this season, beating his former team Dec. 1 in Boston and losing Dec. 23.
Cam Ward will continue to roll along for the Canes, making his 16th consecutive start.
The Canes’ lines Sunday are expected to have Rask centering Skinner and Ty Rattie, Jordan Staal with McGinn and Derek Ryan, Teuvo Teravainen centering Sebastian Aho and Lee Stempniak, and Jay McClement at center with Viktor Stalberg and Joakim Nordstrom.
The defensive pairs are expected to be Ron Hainsey-Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin-Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin-Matt Tennyson.
In yet another scheduling quirk, the Canes have not faced either the Blue Jackets or Islanders — two Metropolitan Division teams — this season. But first things first for Carolina: the Bruins.
As McGinn said, “We just need to focus on our game and hopefully things will come out good for us.”