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After playing six straight games against non-divisional opponents, the Hurricanes get back to the grind in Raleigh tonight.

Each of the team's next seven games will be played against Southeast Division teams, beginning with the Florida Panthers Thursday night at home. These two teams played twice immediately before and after the Christmas break, with the Hurricanes winning both times.

With so many games being played within the division, this presents a crucial time for Carolina to pick up some points and separate themselves from the pack.

Or, maybe it doesn't.

"Division games don't mean anything anymore," said Hurricanes Head Coach Peter Laviolette. "The only thing that matters is the conference. You've got to finish as high up in your conference to make sure you get home ice for the playoffs."

After winning their last two games, including a convincing 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Hurricanes are currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with the top eight teams making the playoffs. The team is both six points clear of the ninth-placed team and six points behind Atlanta for first place in the division.

Throughout Carolina's somewhat inconsistent play over the last several weeks, the one constant of late has been goaltender Cam Ward. Even when the team lost three straight games, Ward played very well only to be let down by a lack of goal-scoring support.

Lately, the team has been winning and Ward has been getting credit for it, being named third and first star, respectively, in the last two games against the New York Islanders and Toronto.

Although Ward has played in six straight games, he said he doesn't mind the heavy load.

"There's not a game that goes by that you don't want to be in," he said. "With that being said, you know that you can't play all of them. I'm happy with getting the opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most of it."

With the Hurricanes' games much more spread out in January as opposed to earlier in the season, Ward is able to play consecutive games while still getting enough rest. That makes it possible for him to play as often as he does, which he says helps his overall game.

"That's part of the reason why maybe last year I was a little inconsistent," he said. "It's tough to get into a rhythm when you're not playing all that much. It is a lot easier when you're playing in game situations night after night."

When Carolina's schedule was so congested in the first part of the season, they often found themselves having to play two nights in a row with the second game being against a team that was resting and waiting.

Tonight, it will be the Hurricanes resting and waiting as Florida plays host to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers
Thursday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m. (ET)
RBC Center * Raleigh, NC
Hurricanes: 23-18-4 (50 pts.) 2nd Southeast Division
Maple Leafs: 15-20-9 (39 pts.), 5th Southeast Division

The Carolina Hurricanes return to the RBC Center to begin a two-game home stand against divisional opponents, Thursday against the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., Hurricanes Radio Network) and Saturday against the division-leading Atlanta Thrashers (7 p.m., Hurricanes Radio Network). The Hurricanes are coming off of consecutive wins against the New York Islanders at home on Jan. 6 (4-2) and at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 9 (4-1).

Broadcast Note:
The opposing teams’ telecasts of the Hurricanes’ next two games will be available via the NHL’s CenterIce package, which is having a free preview for digital cable and satellite subscribers this week. As always, fans can tune into the Hurricanes Radio Network broadcasts of each game featuring Hall of Fame broadcaster Chuck Kaiton. The Hurricanes will return to FSN South with a high-definition telecast of the game at Florida on Jan. 16.


* Captain Rod Brind'Amour earned his 200th Hurricanes assist, Jan. 9 at Toronto
* Left wing Ray Whitney earned his 400th NHL assist with his second assist, Jan. 9 at Toronto
* Defenseman David Tanabe earned his 100th NHL assist with his second assist, Jan. 9 at Toronto


* Goaltender Cam Ward has started each of the Hurricanes last six games (12/29-1/6)
* Right wing Justin Williams has goals and points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 2g, 1a)
* Center Eric Staal has goals and points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 2g, 1a)
* Left wing Ray Whitney has assists and points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 0g, 4a)
* Captain Rod Brind’Amour has assists and points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 0g, 2a)
* Right wing Scott Walker has points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 1g, 1a)
* Left wing Cory Stillman has assists and points in two straight games (1/6-1/9: 0g, 4a)


* The Hurricanes’ next seven games are against Southeast Division opponents, with five of those games taking place at the RBC Center. Carolina currently posts a 10-3-0 record against Southeast Division foes after going 18-11-3 against the division in 2005-06.
* Carolina posts a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games against Florida, dating back to the Hurricanes’ 1-0 win at BankAtlantic Center on Nov. 11, 2005. Carolina’s only regulation losses in that span came on March 10, 2006 (5-3) and Oct. 11, 2006 (6-3), both at Florida.
* The Panthers have not won at the RBC Center since Dec. 6, 2002, and have earned just one point in their last eight games in Raleigh, a 2-2 tie on Oct. 13, 2003.
* The Hurricanes’ power play is 17-for-76 (22.4%) with left wing Cory Stillman in the lineup, and 26-for-187 (13.9%) without him.
* This season, Carolina’s penalty kill has gone 185-for-212 (87.3%) in 41 games with Rod Brind’Amour in the lineup and went 17-for-27 (63.0%) in the four games Brind’Amour missed in December.

CAROLINA ON THE POWER PLAY: 43-of-263 (16.4%)
CAROLINA SHORTHANDED: 202-of-239 (84.4%)


* Defenseman Glen Wesley, lower body, day-to-day, missed 2 games
* Defenseman Bret Hedican, illness/finger surgery, injured reserve, out 3-4 weeks, missed 4 games
* Defenseman Tim Gleason, broken foot, injured reserve, out one month, missed 8 games
* Defenseman Frantisek Kaberle, shoulder, out, missed 45 games
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