Hurricanes skating on thin ice

Published 10:37 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — Pucks flew as the Carolina Hurricanes practiced. So did the profanities.
Ordinarily mild-mannered coach Paul Maurice was anything but subtle Friday in an attempt to not-so-gently coax more effort out of a team that lately hasn’t done very many things right.
Clearly, the Hurricanes are getting to know the angry side of their new coach.
A day after Maurice chastised his team during intermission with what he said was ‘‘nothing you can print,’’ there was no shortage of verbal daggers throughout a physical workout. The Hurricanes are entering a critical stretch looking for a way to snap their season-worst four-game losing streak.
Especially with the three-game road trip they face before the All-Star break.
The Hurricanes, who are trying to avoid their first five-game losing streak since December 2006, face two teams that join them on the playoff bubble in the East. Carolina entered Friday night’s games clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot with 47 points, one more than Southeast Division rival Florida and defending Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh.
They visit Buffalo today — where the Hurricanes have lost four straight — before taking on the Penguins on Tuesday.
Sandwiched between them is a trip to Toronto to face the same Maple Leafs team that beat them 6-4 on Thursday night.
Things certainly have gone south in a hurry for the Hurricanes, who only 10 days earlier were flying high after beating New Jersey to cap the impressive string of performances that followed their midseason coaching change. Five years after Carolina fired him, Maurice was rehired in early December with a mandate to bring more toughness to the team.
Immediately after Maurice took over for Peter Laviolette, Carolina picked up points in 12 of the 16 games that followed, including four straight wins among the nine victories in that stretch to give their playoff hopes a significant boost.
They haven’t won since.
A three-game road swing through Florida, Boston and Ottawa turned into a disaster — they were outscored by a combined 14-4 — was followed by a return to Raleigh against a Toronto team well outside the playoff picture.
The Hurricanes promptly allowed the Maple Leafs to score the first four goals — three coming during a moribund second period, after which Maurice lit into his team. That tactic apparently worked well enough to force a tie before Toronto scored the game-winner with 5:25 left.