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After being named the NHL All-Star game MVP, Eric Staal hopes to continue his hot stretch and help the Carolina Hurricanes create some breathing room atop the Southeast Division on Tuesday night when they host the New York Rangers.
Staal, the Hurricanes' leader with 27 goals and 48 points, scored two goals and assisted on the eventual game-winner with 20.9 seconds to go in the Eastern Conference's 8-7 win in the All-Star game Sunday. The performance came after the 23-year-old center put together a five-game point streak for the Hurricanes (24-24-4), during which he totaled four goals and three assists.
Staal had a season-high seven-game point streak from Dec. 15-29, which included a goal in a 4-2 road loss to the Rangers (24-21-6) on Dec. 26. He has two goals and three assists in six career home games against them, helping Carolina win five of those contests.
He'll try to extend his current streak and help the Hurricanes, losers of five of their last seven, improve their one-point lead on second-place Washington, which visits Montreal on Tuesday.
Carolina, which has the fewest points of any division leader (52), lost 6-3 to the New York Islanders on Thursday to settle for a split of a home-and-home set. Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, who stopped 25 of 30 shots, allowed three shorthanded goals in the defeat. Carolina leads the NHL in allowing 10 shorthanded goals.
"The players that are up on the power play have to take the responsibility to do the right things at the right time with the pucks, and we didn't," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said.
Carolina could use better play from Ward, who is 2-5-0 with a 3.98 goals-against average in his last seven games, including six starts.
Ward made 31 saves, but allowed three goals on 16 shots in the third period of the last meeting with the Rangers on Dec. 26. He was better in the first matchup on Dec. 3, stopping all 28 shots in a 4-0 victory at Madison Square Garden.
The Hurricanes, who have dropped five of their last six at home (1-4-1), host the Rangers for the first time this season. They had won five consecutive games against them in Raleigh, N.C. before losing 4-1 in the last matchup there on Feb. 15.
The Rangers hope the All-Star break didn't interfere with any momentum they created from taking two consecutive meetings from Atlanta after enduring a difficult 2-6-2 stretch. New York won 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday.
The two victories helped the Rangers pull into a tie with the Islanders for eighth place in the East.
"Right now it's all about the wins," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "I don't care if we play bad or if we play really good as long as we're winning."
Lundqvist has been solid in the last two victories, making 18 saves Thursday after stopping all 14 shots in a 4-0 win last Tuesday.
He hasn't won on the road since making 31 stops in a 5-2 victory against the Senators on Dec. 1. Since then, he's 0-3-4 with a 3.82 GAA.
Those struggles have contributed to the Rangers' five-game road losing streak, which is one game shy of matching their six-game away slide (0-5-1) to start the season. They own a 7-10-6 mark on the road.
The Rangers are also last in the conference with 55 goals on the road.