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Central-leading Hurricanes start three-game set vs. Blackhawks

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The Carolina Hurricanes don’t expect things to become any easier even while facing a team that won’t be involved in the playoffs.

The Hurricanes, who hold the lead in the Central Division, wrap up the home portion of their regular season with three games this week against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That begins with Monday night’s game in Raleigh, N.C.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. “A lot of, we call, grind games. We haven’t had too many easy games.”

The Hurricanes (34-10-7, 75 points) are riding a 10-game points streak, the latest on that list coming courtesy of Hamilton’s overtime goal Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blackhawks (22-23-6, 50 points) have lost four straight games, including a 5-4 decision to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

“You have to play it the right way,” Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said. “That will build it into good things over time.”

The Hurricanes are aiming to keep the highlights rolling.

Alex Nedeljkovic has become the top goalie for Carolina during the past couple of weeks, perhaps in part because of another injury to Petr Mrazek. Nedeljkovic holds a 14-4-3 record for the season. He has been particularly busy lately by playing in five of the last seven games.

On the overtime winning goal against Columbus, Nedeljkovic delivered a breakout pass that Hamilton received after the puck hit the boards. It turned out to be an assist for Nedeljkovic for his first NHL point.

“Everyone in the building knew that was just a great play by the goalie,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “To have the awareness of what’s kind of going on in that play.”

Overall, it was another performance that endeared Nedeljkovic to his teammates.

“We didn’t have our prettiest game,” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “He held us in there.”

If Nedeljkovic receives the call for Monday night’s assignment, it will be only his second against the Blackhawks. Chicago won, 2-1, the first time when facing Nedeljkovic on March 30.

Carolina has five games remaining. It remains in a race for the top seed in the division with the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in pursuit.

“We want to play well going into the playoffs,” Slavin said. “We don’t want to go out on a low note. We want to continue to fine-tune our game heading into the postseason.”

Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said the Blackhawks tend to have too many mistakes to maintain good stretches. For the players, the last week or so of the season shouldn’t be time to just fade into the offseason.

“The focus is to play with pride and play the right way and to realize there is something that we continue to build here,” Colliton said. “Realize that it’s a process no matter what time of year it is.”

Part of the reason for the three consecutive games between the Hurricanes and Blackhawks is because of some schedule alterations earlier in the season. The teams haven’t met since April 1.

–Field Level Media

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