Hurricanes-Blue Jackets Preview

The Associated Press

The Carolina Hurricanes might fall short, but they're at least making a late-season playoff push.

The NHL-worst Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, keep falling further off the pace.

Carolina goes for its first five-game winning streak in two seasons on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, where it will try to end a four-game losing streak to the Blue Jackets.

With just eight games left, the Hurricanes (30-29-15) have little room for error if they're going to move up from their 11th spot to one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference. But if Carolina can continue its current play down the stretch, there's no telling what could happen over the final two-plus weeks.

The club opens its three-game trip with a chance to win five straight for the first time since a seven-game run from Feb. 5-March 4, 2010.

"They're battling and not going away," coach Kirk Muller told the Hurricanes' official website following Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Southeast Division-leading Florida.

Unless they go on a remarkable run and Edmonton falls apart, the Blue Jackets (23-43-7) will end the season at the bottom of the NHL standings.

They have given no indication they're poised to finish strong, scoring just seven times while losing five of six.

Columbus is 0 for 34 on the power play in its last nine contests after failing in both chances in Tuesday's 5-1 home loss to Chicago.

"Our power play, at times, gets too slow, too stationary, and then we aren't looking to get pucks to the net," said Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards, whose team opens a stretch of six games in nine nights.

That doesn't bode well for goaltender Steve Mason, who might start the rest of the season with Curtis Sanford likely done with a quadriceps injury.

Mason yielded three goals in the opening 8:22 on Tuesday, but he owns a 1.67 goals-against average while winning all three of his starts against the Hurricanes. He turned aside 29 shots in the teams' last meeting, a 3-2 road victory March 12.

Mason will face a Carolina team that has scored at least one goal in 10 straight periods.

The Hurricanes are hoping for continued production from captain and team scoring leader Eric Staal, who is one goal shy of 250 after netting two in each of the last two games. Carolina could also get a boost during its stretch run from Jeff Skinner and defenseman Joni Pitkanen.

Skinner had an assist on Wednesday after serving a two-game suspension for kicking St. Louis forward Scott Nichol with his skate, while Pitkanen scored and set up another goal following a 44-game absence with a concussion and a knee injury.

Cam Ward will likely be in net for the Hurricanes. The veteran netminder is 0-3-0 with a 3.26 GAA in four starts against the Blue Jackets - the only team in the league he hasn't defeated.

Ward lasted less than eight minutes in the Hurricanes' last game in Columbus - a 3-2 loss Nov. 7, 2009 - after suffering a cut to his upper leg by Rick Nash's skate.

Nash needs two points to reach 50 for the eighth straight season. The Blue Jackets captain reached the 25-goal plateau for the eighth consecutive season Tuesday with his first point in eight games.

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