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Skinner, Hurricanes begin trip in Anaheim

Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner is starting to find his groove again after missing time with a head injury. Hopefully the club's cross country road trip won't derail his momentum.

Carolina begins its three-game journey tonight in Anaheim, where it will take on a Ducks team that has wins in 10 of its past 14 games.

Last year's winner of the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, the 19- year-old has 15 goals through 38 games this year after logging 31 as a freshman in 82 games a season ago. He missed over a month of action beginning in early December because of a concussion and has potted three goals in eight games since his return on Jan. 15.

All three of those have come over his past five trips to the ice and he scored the game-winner in Saturday's 2-1 victory over the visiting Kings, banging home a rebound of a Jussi Jokinen shot at the 3:02 mark of the third.

"It's tough coming back after sitting out 16 games and then jumping back midseason. It's not something I've ever done before so it's tough to really prepare for it," said Skinner. "Obviously there's going to be a little bit of time when things are frustrating and you're not in that sort of flow that you usually have, but I'm feeling a little bit better and more comfortable."

That's good news for the Hurricanes, who have won three of four and are 4-1-2 in their past seven games. But, they are still last in the Eastern Conference with 49 points.

Cam Ward figures to get the bulk of the work on this three-game swing that begins in Anaheim, moves to Colorado and then concludes in Montreal on Monday. After posting a 47-save shutout at Boston last Thursday, Ward made 24 saves versus the Kings for his 20th victory of the campaign.

Carolina's victory over Los Angeles made it 8-2-1 in its past 11 at home, but the club is only 6-13-6 as the guest this season.

Forward Anthony Stewart is expected to play for the 'Canes tonight after clearing waivers on Tuesday. He has six goals and 13 points through 50 games this year, though his plus-4 rating is tied for tops on the team.

The Ducks close out a four-game homestand this evening and had lost the first two of the residency, including an overtime defeat to Columbus on Friday prior to Monday's 3-2 shootout win over Calgary. The victory leaves the 13th-place Ducks 10 points behind a playoff spot in the West with 48 points.

After getting regulation goals from Bobby Ryan and Matt Beleskey, Niklas Hagman notched the winner in the eighth round of the shootout, scoring off fellow Finn and former teammate Miikka Kiprusoff. Jonas Hiller, meanwhile, came up with 24 saves through overtime and stopped six of eight in the shootout. That includes each of the final three skaters he faced as Anaheim moved to 2-4 in shootouts this year and won its first since Oct. 8 versus the Rangers in Stockholm, Sweden.

"We really needed those two points and really wanted it. It wasn't an easy game. I think both teams played really hard. You could see out there that both teams really wanted those points and it was about time we finally won a shootout," said Hiller.

Anaheim improved to 10-2-2 in its past 14 games and will look to avenge last season's 4-2 road loss to Carolina. The Hurricanes snapped a two-game skid to the Ducks thanks to a hat trick from Eric Staal and 43 saves by Ward.