|Penguins host surging Hurricanes|
PITTSBURGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes, not exactly at the top of prognosticators' lists as Stanley Cup contenders entering the season, are among the teams clawing to make headway in the Metropolitan Division and, by extension, the Eastern Conference.
But the Hurricanes (18-13-8) have accomplished more at this point than their opponent Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena, the two-time defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (20-18-3).
Carolina is coming off a 5-4 overtime loss against Washington on Tuesday and is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games. That boosted the Hurricanes into the final wild-card spot in the East and has convinced them that they can continue to put together a nice run of games.
"Once you get in (a playoff spot), you need to keep climbing and keep getting points," Hurricanes veteran winger Justin Williams said.
Carolina will be kicking off a four-game road trip that also has stops in Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington.
"We're in a real pivotal part of the season, playing good teams, and we're excited about it," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "We're playing well. I like our team right now. Good energy. Good confidence in the room."
Pittsburgh can't exactly say the same as it sits right at the midpoint of the season. It is out of the playoff picture, looking up at Carolina, among others, and the Hurricanes have two games in hand.
The Penguins had won just three of nine before a feel-good, 5-1-win Tuesday at Philadelphia that kept them from falling to last in the Metro. But they have had a hard time spinning one good showing into a strong stretch.
Maybe this time.
"If we play with that kind of confidence (as against the Flyers), we have the firepower to do that," Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. "It's a matter of recognizing that and making sure we have the confidence to make those plays going forward."
Just last week, Pittsburgh had a rousing 5-4 shootout win against Columbus in which they overcame three two-goal deficits, but then came a dud Friday with 2-1 loss at Carolina.
The Penguins are hoping the rematch with the Hurricanes resembles the win over the Flyers more than the loss to Carolina.
"It seemed like almost every part of our game was clicking," Penguins winger Ryan Reaves said of the win at Philadelphia. "It's something to build off. We've got to string a couple of those together now."
Both clubs have some injury concerns coming out of Tuesday's games.
Center Carter Rowney, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and backup goalie Tristan Jarry left the Penguins win with unspecified injuries. There have been no updates.
Hurricanes center Lucas Wallmark left the Washington loss after taking a skate to the groin.
"He's sore and doubtful for (Wednesday)," Peters said, adding that Wallmark wasn't cut.
Carolina captain Jordan Staal sat out practice Wednesday with what Peters called a maintenance day. The teams are taking opposite approaches with their schedule.
The Penguins canceled practice Wednesday and will hold a morning skate. The Hurricanes practiced briefly before flying to Pittsburgh, and Peters indicated they probably won't hold a full morning skate.
"Save them for the game," Peters said. "The teams that are behind you are hungry, and the teams that are above you want to keep you where you are. You've got to be desperate every night, and you've got to play well."