The Carolina Hurricanes’ season was derailed by a month-long string of losses. Perhaps just as telling a sign of their struggles has been the lack of a single three-game winning streak.
The Hurricanes try again to finally earn a third consecutive victory Tuesday night when they face the reeling Toronto Maple Leafs, who are looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat.
Carolina’s franchise-worst 14-game skid early in the season dropped the team to the bottom of the NHL, several months after it reached the Eastern Conference finals. Injuries to Eric Staal(notes) and Cam Ward(notes) contributed to the surprising decline.
With their stars healthy, though, the Hurricanes (13-24-7) have shown some improvement lately, winning four of six.
Victories over Colorado and Ottawa on Friday and Sunday gave them back-to-back wins for just the fourth time this season, and an opportunity to win three in a row for the first time since the 2009 playoffs.
They will try for a better start than they had Sunday against the Senators, as the Hurricanes relied on Ward to stop all 16 shots faced in what was a lackluster first period for Carolina.
The Hurricanes responded after that, outshooting the Senators 28-16 in the final two periods of a 4-1 victory.
“We got our game better in the second and third and the result was a good win,” Staal said.
While Tuomo Ruutu(notes) missed the game with an upper-body injury, joining a lengthy injured list that includes fellow forward Sergei Samsonov(notes) and defenseman Joe Corvo(notes), Staal scored in his return after missing one game to attend his sister-in-law’s funeral.
Both of the Hurricanes’ most recent victories came at home, but they have also taken two of three on the road since a 1-13-4 start away from Raleigh. They won both visits to Toronto last season, getting 35 saves from Ward in a 2-0 victory Jan. 19.
Carolina has been getting closer to escaping the East cellar thanks to the Leafs’ continuing struggles. The Hurricanes are six points behind Toronto (15-22-9), which has had major problems at both ends of the ice lately.
The Leafs may have even bigger issues on the penalty kill. Toronto allowed at least one power-play goal in eight straight games, with opponents converting on 13 of 24 chances.
The winning goal by Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar(notes) came on the power play in Toronto’s 4-1 home loss Saturday. Leafs coach Ron Wilson was still happy with his team, which managed 43 shots on goal.
“It was our fourth game in five nights, and (Pittsburgh) came in rested,” Wilson said. “There was nothing wrong with our effort, I was happy with our energy level. The players emptied the tank, they gave it all they had on the ice.”
Carolina beat the Leafs 6-5 in a shootout in the most recent meeting, Nov. 19 in Raleigh.