Hurricanes to play new-look Bruins with heavy hearts

BOSTON — The struggling Carolina Hurricanes have more to worry about than a five-game losing streak and a precarious-at-best playoff situation as they visit the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.

A death in the family.

Jordan Staal, one of the team’s captains, and his wife, Heather, were grieving over the death of their infant daughter, Hannah, leaving teammates and coaches stunned.

“Just a tremendous amount of grief and shock,” teammate Lee Stempniak said of Hannah’s death over the weekend.

Speaking to the News & Observer after Monday’s practice, Stempniak, who went through this before when then-Calgary teammate Matt Stajan lost a baby in childbirth, said, “It’s just a terrible, terrible thing. You try to empathize with what they’re going through and I can’t even fathom going through something like that.

“I definitely gave my kids an extra hug and an extra kiss before bed.”

Carolina coach Bill Peters said, “Obviously, everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with Jordan and Heather and the family. It puts everything into perspective.”

Peters moved Sebastian Aho to center to fill in for Staal, who has already missed two games. Staal was told to take as much time as he needs for a return.

“We will at some point get ‘Jordo’ back and that will help us,” Peters said of Staal. “You miss him, right? In the two games we didn’t have him, and all the situations he plays in and he’s not there, that’s an eye-opener. It’s also an opportunity for others.”

The Hurricanes have scored five goals while going 0-4-1 during the five-game stretch, leaving them on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture — well in range but looking for answers.

They face a Bruins team that just picked up Rick Nash from the New York Rangers, signed veteran Brian Gionta off the U.S. Olympic team and on Monday traded for veteran winger Tommy Wingels.

This will be the home crowd’s first peek at the “new-look” Bruins, who while comfortable in their playoff position suffered back-to-back regulation losses over the weekend — for the first time since Nov. 11-15.

The Bruins dropped a controversial 4-3 decision at Toronto on Saturday night when their last-minute claim of goaltender interference was denied. Then they were dumped by the last-place Sabres in Buffalo in Nash’s debut Sunday night.

“I think it’s obviously our starts,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team opens a six-game homestand Tuesday night after going 2-3 on a five-game trip.

“We’re getting away from playing the way that we’re used to … it’s about getting back to playing our game.”

The Bruins announced on Tuesday that multi-time Selke Trophy recipient Patrice Bergeron will be sidelined with a fractured right foot will be evaluated in two weeks. The injury occurred while Bergeron blocked a shot against Toronto on Friday.

The Bruins clubbed the Hurricanes 7-1 in Boston last month and the teams still have a date in North Carolina left on March 13.

Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask is 7-3-3 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .939 save percentage lifetime against Carolina. Anton Khudobin played in the first game between the teams.

Cam Ward, whose goaltending had pushed the Hurricanes back into the playoff picture, is 16-16-4 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .919 save percentage all time against Boston.

Through Sunday, third-place Boston was a point behind Toronto but had four games in hand — and trailed first-place Tampa Bay, which made a huge deadline deal picking up Ryan McDonagh, by five with two in hand.

Tampa Bay and Toronto played Monday night.

Nash was immediately placed at right wing next to David Krejci, with rookie Jake DeBrusk on the left.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get a chance to play with a world-class player like that,” Nash said Sunday. “It’s just something where you let the coaches worry more about that stuff and see where you fit in, but I’ve played Boston for many years, and they’re a tough team to play against with a lot of talent, so I’m happy to be a part of it.”