Winds of change in Carolina

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

The Carolina Hurricanes managed to stop the freefall and are actually climbing up the ladder.

Heading into their contest Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Hurricanes had won four straight and five of their previous six.

Mind you, after Monday's loss, they're still a last-place team -- well, tied for last in the East -- but at least Carolina has had something to build on lately as they try to get out of the gutter.

"I think as a group we're playing with a lot more confidence and we're moving the puck better out of our own end," said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. "We're making the short passes, coming out of our end with some speed and then getting on the forecheck, which has been our identity for a few years.

"As a result, we've been on the attack more and have created some offence. Also (goaltender) Cam (Ward) has played very, very well. He's a difference-maker for us and it's been a lot funner being on the winning side of things for sure."

The Hurricanes weren't supposed to be in this predicament at the start of the season. They went into the year with lofty expectations, having made it to the Eastern Conference final the previous season. They still have one of the best up and coming forwards in the game in Staal and a goaltender touted as a candidate for the Canadian Olympic team.

Yet it started bad and quickly got worse for the Hurricanes who won just two of their first 17 games.

"We don't feel like we're a last-place team, which obviously we have been for a lot of the season," Staal said. "But we didn't sulk, we didn't hang our heads, we're going to continue to come to the rink every day and try and better ourselves. We'll keep trying to get better and keep moving forward every single game."

The Hurricanes have had some injury issues of their own. They've lost a total of 217 man games heading into Monday's contest.

They went into their game against the Oilers without Erik Cole, who's been limited to just 20 games this season due to an upper body injury.

"Every team deals with injuries," said Ward. "But I think it's the type of players that we've had go down and the timing of the injuries that have hurt us.

"Staal went down for a month, I was down with an injury for a month and a half. We still have guys on the injury list, but for the most part, guys have done a good job coming in and filling those roles."

The Hurricanes still have their work cut out for them if they are going to entertain any thought of challenging for a playoff spot. They went into Monday's contest 12 points out of the playoffs and needing to jump over five teams in the standings.

"We've been doing a better job not thinking about it," Ward said. "We've just been going out there and worrying about playing our own game. We don't get too wrapped up with how many points back we are. We know that every game means a lot to this team and we're running out of games as we go. But all you can do is focus on the next one and that's what we're concentrating on."

It's been less than four years, but it seems like an eternity since the Hurricanes defeated the Oilers in the Stanley Cup final.

While the two teams find themselves in a similar predicament now, the Hurricanes have had some success since then, winning a pair of playoff series last year.

The Oilers have yet to make it back to the post season.

"I think there are a few teams in the league that can relate to what they are going through," said Hurricanes winger Sergei Samsonov, who was part of the Oilers' Cup run in 2006.

"It's definitely not easy, especially maybe being in Canada. It's probably tough in the locker-room right now."


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