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The Carolina Hurricanes haven't had any success against the Montreal Canadiens this season, and their hopes of getting a win probably won't be much better without their captain in the lineup.

Eric Staal won't play in Saturday night's crucial matchup in Montreal with each team jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Staal left Friday's 4-1 win against Pittsburgh in the second period after being hit hard by Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen. Staal, who has 27 goals and 32 assists this season, appeared dazed after the hit and lay on the ice before returning to the bench and eventually heading to the locker room.

Coach Paul Maurice stopped short of calling it a dirty hit.

''He won't play (Saturday), but we're hopeful he'll play our next game (Tuesday against Florida),'' Maurice said. ''You can't tell (about the hit) from the camera angles. We'll let the league look at that.''

Staal's absence could be a major blow to Carolina (29-24-9), which is clinging to eighth place in the East and has had trouble solving Montreal so far this season. The Hurricanes fell 7-2 on Nov. 13 and 3-2 on Dec. 23.

Staal has four goals and five assists in his last four games against the Canadiens, including a hat trick and two assists in a 5-2 win on April 8. He has seven goals and nine assists in 12 career games in Montreal.

The return of forward Cory Stillman, who won the 2006 Stanley Cup with Carolina, seems even more important with Staal out. Stillman played Friday, one day after being acquired in a trade with Florida, and was reunited with former linemate Erik Cole, who had a goal and an assist in his 600th NHL game.

Cam Ward made 33 saves to win for the first time in three starts. He is 0-2-0 with a 4.44 goals-against average versus the Canadiens this season after going 6-1-1 with a 1.93 GAA in his previous eight starts against them.

Carolina has lost eight of its last 10 on the road, but Montreal hasn't been much better at home.

The Canadiens (32-23-7) have lost four of five at the Bell Centre after falling 5-4 to Toronto on Thursday. Alex Auld started in place of Carey Price, but gave up three goals on nine shots in the first before being pulled.

Price made 17 saves in relief, but gave up two more goals and took the loss.

''It's part of the game and any time (getting pulled) happens you're obviously not happy about it,'' Auld said. ''When you start the game you intend on finishing it. Obviously three goals in half a period isn't what I need to do to help our team.''

Montreal has lost seven of nine and has slipped four points behind first-place Boston in the Northeast Division.

Price is 3-1-0 with a 1.97 GAA in his last four starts against the Hurricanes.

Leading scorer Tomas Plekanec had an assist against the Maple Leafs for his first point in four games. He has a goal and four assists against Carolina this season.

Montreal hopes to have defenseman Brent Sopel in the lineup Saturday. Sopel, who has two goals and five assists in 59 games this season, was acquired Thursday in a trade with Atlanta.

The Canadiens are 3-1-1 against the Hurricanes in the last five meetings in Montreal.

Tagged: Hurricanes, Canadiens, Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Carey Price

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