After struggling badly for months, the Carolina Hurricanes have finally started to play well. Extending their longest winning streak of the season, though, will require a feat they haven't accomplished since their Hartford Whalers days.
To win their fourth straight Thursday night, the Hurricanes will have to earn their first road victory over the Detroit Red Wings in more than 20 years.
Carolina (14-24-7) has been bouncing back from a brutal start with six wins in eight games and four victories in its last five road contests. The Hurricanes rank near the bottom of the NHL in goals scored and allowed, but have outscored opponents 10-4 during their three-game run -- their longest since winning nine in a row from March 18-April 7.
Much of the credit goes to a resurgent Cam Ward, who has posted a 1.33 goals-against average during the win streak. He was 6-15-5 with a 3.06 GAA in his previous 27 starts, and missed 13 games with a lacerated leg.
Carolina was outshot 40-18 in Toronto on Tuesday night, but Ward flashed the form that helped him post a career-best 2.44 GAA a season ago, stopping 38 shots in a 4-2 victory.
He turned away all 15 Maple Leafs shots in the final period.
"It's just a matter of coming to the rink and competing," Ward said. "It's finally time that we found ways to win. Even though the game wasn't exactly the greatest game, we found ways to battle through it at key times in the game."
Ward was five years old the last time his franchise celebrated a win in Detroit, 3-0 by the Whalers on Nov. 14, 1989. The team has gone winless in 14 subsequent trips, earning a tie Jan. 31, 2004.
The Hurricanes fell 5-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 9, 2007, in their last game at Detroit. Ward suffered the loss in his first matchup with the Wings, and fell 3-1 to them at home Oct. 13, 2008.
Carolina, however, won't be facing the same dominant Detroit team of past seasons. Injuries, most notably to Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, have hampered the Red Wings offensively, with Detroit averaging 2.49 goals after averaging a league-best 3.52 in 2008-09.
The Wings (23-16-6) are coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, 6-0 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
Jimmy Howard had helped Detroit go 5-1-1 in its previous seven, posting a 1.42 GAA in that span, but was pulled after giving up three goals in 28:07. Chris Osgood fared even worse, allowing three goals on 11 shots as Detroit wrapped up a five-game road trip at 3-2-0.
"We should be able to put up a better effort than we did," center Henrik Zetterberg said. "There are no excuses. We weren't good enough."
The Red Wings should be looking forward to a return home, where they have won five of six. A matchup with the Hurricanes, though, may not help them get their struggling power play going.
Detroit went 2 for 45 with the man advantage in its last 14 games and 3 for 49 in its previous 11 at home. Carolina, meanwhile, has killed off 11 straight power-play opportunities.
Osgood might get a chance to bounce back from Tuesday's performance, as he is 12-4-0 with a 1.50 GAA against the Hurricanes franchise. Howard has never faced Carolina.