Hurricanes-Wild Preview

The Associated PressMarch 17, 2012

Cam Ward was at his best during the Carolina Hurricanes' last game, helping stymie one of the NHL's most formidable teams.

A matchup with the league's lowest-scoring club could help the Hurricanes build on their impressive effort.

Visiting Carolina will be without second-leading scorer Jeff Skinner as it tries to add to the Minnesota Wild's recent woes on Saturday.

Sitting at the bottom of the Southeast Division, the Hurricanes (27-29-15) hardly looked like a last-place team during a 2-0 win over NHL-leading St. Louis on Thursday. Chad LaRose and Skinner scored in the third period while Ward turned away all 40 shots for his 200th NHL victory.

"It means a lot to me," Ward said. "To win 200 games in this organization is something I'm proud of, but I don't want to stop now."

Skinner, who leads the team with 20 goals, was suspended two games without pay for kicking Blues forward Scott Nichol in the second period. Skinner will also miss Carolina's road game against Winnipeg on Sunday.

Thursday's victory may have come as a surprise to some, but Carolina has held its own against some of the better teams in the league. The Hurricanes have taken all four matchups with Boston, went 1-0-1 against the Blues and are a combined 2-0-0 against Vancouver and Chicago.

"Any team can beat any team on any given night. We've certainly shown that we're capable of playing with the top teams in this league, but you have to be able to do it for the full length of the season," Ward said. "We've had our fair share of ups and downs ... (we need) to continue to improve. You'd like to make that last push with 11 games left, and who knows what can happen."

While a late run at a postseason spot in the Eastern Conference appears unlikely, the Hurricanes may have good shot at posting back-to-back victories for the first time in a month when they face Minnesota (29-31-10).

Last in the league with 150 goals, the Wild have gone 1-6-1 in their last eight games, falling 1-0 to Dallas on Tuesday. Minnesota has been outscored 30-10 during its slump, getting shut out in half of those contests.

"Our expectations are fair and reasonable right now," coach Mike Yeo said. "All we're asking - we're not asking - we're demanding from each other that we come to the rink and we're ready to be a hard team - play hard, defend hard and play our team game."

Making his second straight start with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding sidelined by injuries, rookie Matt Hackett made 24 saves Tuesday. He is 3-4-0 on the season despite a 2.06 goals-against average.

"He's composed and focused, and technically he's very sound, and I think we all have to be impressed with what we've seen," Yeo said.

Backstrom has missed the last six contests and despite practicing Friday, is unlikely to return over the weekend. Captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder), also practiced and could be back in the lineup following a 13-game absence.

The Wild have lost four in a row on their own ice and gone 2-8-1 in their last 11 at home. Snapping out of their funk could prove difficult against a Hurricanes team that's taken three straight in this series.

"They're a team that's got nothing to lose ... they're just a young team that's motivated and excited to play the game every day," Yeo said of Carolina.