The Carolina Hurricanes are on a season-high five-game losing streak, but they know they still have a great opportunity to capture the Southeast Division.
The Hurricanes look to end their skid Tuesday night when they return from an extended break to host the first-place Winnipeg Jets.
Carolina (15-13-2) is in second place in the Southeast with 32 points - four behind Winnipeg (17-14-2). The Hurricanes have three games in hand on the Jets, and these teams meet three more times in 2013.
"Divisional opponents are always huge, and Winnipeg is ahead of us," top scorer Eric Staal told the Hurricanes' official website. "We've got to take advantage of playing against them and playing our best hockey to pick up points."
Carolina coach Kirk Muller gave his club Saturday and Sunday off as part of the longest stretch between games this season. The Hurricanes returned to practice Monday, and have not played since a 4-1 home loss to New Jersey last Thursday.
"Pretty much, this is the playoffs right now," Muller said. "From here on in, there won't be any chance to pause and regroup."
Winnipeg is starting a difficult stretch in which it plays five of six on the road. The first half of that set of contests includes a visit to Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh on Thursday before hosting the Hurricanes on Saturday.
"It's going to be another tough game and then we go to Pittsburgh and then home to Carolina,' Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. "Those three games are going to be huge for us."
Winnipeg was outscored 10-1 in consecutive home defeats to third-place Washington before bouncing back with Sunday's 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Bryan Little had a goal and two assists for his first multi-point effort in 15 games.
"We dealt with it well," said winger Blake Wheeler, who had two assists. "We didn't panic, we knew we've been playing very good hockey. We just wanted to bounce back tonight and we were able to do that."
Carolina, which is in the midst of its longest slide since an 0-6-1 skid from Nov. 23-Dec. 6, 2011, has totaled six goals in this 0-4-1 stretch.
Staal has gone a season-high six straight home games without a goal, although he has seven assists in that span.
"We're an up-tempo, aggressive, energetic team," Staal said. "Being refreshed, we can be excited about being at the rink tomorrow and playing a home game against a team we have to catch."
The Jets won 4-3 on the road Feb. 21 in the lone meeting this season. Wheeler scored twice and Andrew Ladd had a goal and two assists.
Only one of the last 13 matchups has been decided by more than two goals. The last seven at Carolina have been one-goal games with the exception of a 3-1 Winnipeg win last season in which Little scored into an empty net.
Carolina will start Justin Peters in goal because of injuries to Cam Ward and Dan Ellis. Peters has faced the Jets' franchise once in his four-year career.
"We know that Justin is going to compete and battle as hard as he can because that's just the type of person he is," Staal said. "We're excited to play in front of him."
The Associated Press News Service
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