Hurricanes search for road success at Blue Jackets

A surge during some stellar play at home has the Carolina Hurricanes thinking about the playoffs. The next four games could strengthen or perhaps dash their hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time in eight years.

That stretch kicks off Tuesday night with the Hurricanes looking for their sixth straight win at Nationwide Arena over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Carolina, which defeated Columbus 5-3 on Jan. 10 in Raleigh, wrapped up an unbeaten four-game homestand with a 7-4 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Brock McGinn posted career highs of three assists and four points, giving him four goals and three helpers in three games and third star of the week honors by the NHL on Monday.

Carolina is 14-1-1 in its last 16 home games. On the road, though, the Hurricanes are just 6-11-6 and have been held to two goals or less 14 times. Following this contest, the ‘Canes have a home matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday before traveling to games Saturday in Columbus and Monday against the Washington Capitals.

“It’s weird with our home and road situation, where we play really well at home but can’t seem to find that on the road” Stempniak told the Raleigh News & Observer. “I think at home, the way we’re playing, maybe it’s some of the matchups we’re able to have. It seems like we’re playing a pretty complete game. We don’t give much up.

“Our strength lies in our skating, and it seems at home we really find our legs and skate offensively.”

One player who has fared well at home yet struggled on the road is Jordan Staal. In 19 home games, Staal has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) and is tied with Victor Rask for second in scoring. Staal’s third-period goal last week against Columbus snapped a 3-all tie.

On the road, though, Staal totals four goals and only two assists in 17 games. He enters this contest having scored two goals with five assists in a four-game points streak — his longest of the season.

Another player who struggles in Columbus is Jeff Skinner. The Hurricanes’ scoring leader with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) has just one assist in seven career games in Ohio’s capital.

Cam Ward, who turned away 24 shots in last week’s win over the Blue Jackets, is 5-0-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his last six games against the Blue Jackets.

Columbus (29-9-4) is 2-4-0 since its franchise-record 16-game winning streak was snapped with a shutout loss to Washington on Jan. 5.

“This is good for us to go through this, I think,” defenseman Seth Jones told the Columbus Dispatch. “… For us to deal with some adversity right now, at this point of the season, and get over that hump, it’s going to be big for us in the second half.”

Coach John Tortorella also told the Dispatch the team must rediscover its winning touch.

“We haven’t played poorly, but we haven’t found a way to win games like we were during that streak,” he said. “We need to get back to our foundation of how we play. We’re not that far off, but you can’t leave it too far. You can’t get away from it.”

That thinking also could extend to individual players. Sam Gagner, who’s enjoyed a career resurgence in his first season with Columbus with 30 points, has one goal in his last 14 games and only two assists in his past eight.

Another part of the reason for the Blue Jackets’ recent downturn is in goal. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 43 of 49 shots while going 1-1-0, but has also been day-to-day with an illness. With backup Curtis McElhinney picked up on waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 10, unheralded Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg are seeing time in net.

Bobrovsky, who practiced Monday, is 26-6-2 with a 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage, but he’s lost four of his last five meetings with the Hurricanes with the only victory coming in a shootout.