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The Carolina Hurricanes will rely heavily on goalie Cam Ward as the NHL playoff race heats up. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
The Carolina Hurricanes will rely heavily on goalie Cam Ward as the NHL playoff race heats up. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

Can the Leafs take advantage of struggling 'Canes? Add to ...

The Carolina Hurricanes are in a tough spot right now, sitting last in the Eastern Conference and with only four wins in their last 16 games.

They've changed coaches, bringing in Kirk Muller, but are 1-5-0 under the new bench boss, missing Jeff Skinner and getting desperate.

According to sportsclubstats.com, the 'Canes have just a 0.5-per-cent chance of making the playoffs.

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They should be, in other words, a team that a playoff-bound team can beat at home.

"Obviously it's been a very tough start for our team," Carolina captain Eric Staal said. "Things snowballed in the wrong direction and we'll have to climb out. We're still looking for wins."

The 'Canes come into Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs with only nine wins on the season and a 4-9-2 road record, but one of their victories came over Toronto only three weeks ago.

The Leafs have had three days off to prepare for this game and have been saying all along they can't afford to take this team lightly, regardless of where they are in the standings.

"We've got to be ready to start," coach Ron Wilson said. "We're well rested. We've had a chance to work on some things that we've let slip over the last couple of weeks, so now we've just got to go and play the game."

"We need the win, but at the same time, they're a great team," netminder James Reimer said. "It's going to be a hard-fought game."

Reimer will start again for the Leafs as they try to get him back on track after missing six weeks with a head injury. He's 0-2-1 with an .864 save percentage since returning and with back-to-back games this weekend, it's safe to say Jonas Gustavsson is about to get another well-deserved start in the near future.

Cam Ward is expected to start for Carolina.

Notebook

- Wilson said the Leafs had practised their struggling penalty kill on Monday by having some of their offensive players simulate what Carolina's power play usually does. (Of note: The 'Canes power play has improved recently under Muller, but it's still not great.) It'll be interesting to see if that helps.

- Matt Lombardi took part in the morning skate for the first time as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder, but his recovery still has him a few weeks away. He had his arm immobilized up until about two weeks ago but said he's happy with the amount of strength that has returned to the arm so far. (I still wouldn't rule out surgery, but the team wants to see how he heals.)

- Luke Schenn said he has kept in close contact with Tomas Kaberle, his former defence partner who the Hurricanes recently dealt to the Montreal Canadiens. "He thinks it'll be good for him," Schenn said of the trade. "He's always played well in Montreal when we were visiting there. I think he's a player that thrives on playing in a tough hockey market. I want him to do well."

- A question for consideration: Keith Aulie will again be a healthy scratch for this game. How does it make sense to keep him up with the big club when he's only sitting in the press box? Wouldn't a veteran be a better choice to be on hand as a seventh defenceman in case of injury?

Leafs projected lineup

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Frattin - Connolly - Armstrong Steckel - Dupuis - Crabb

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Gardiner - Schenn Liles - Franson

Reimer

'Canes projected lineup (based on last game)

Dwyer - Staal - Tlusty Ponikarovsky - Ruutu - Jokinen LaRose - Sutter - Nodl Bowman - Brent - Stewart

Gleason - McBain Faulk - Spacek Allen - Joslin

Ward

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