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The Carolina Hurricanes could be without starting goaltender Cam Ward for a home-and-home series against the New Jersey Devils. They may not miss him if John Grahame continues his solid play.
Grahame and the Hurricanes look to tighten their grip on a playoff spot Thursday night when they host the Atlantic Division-leading Devils.
Grahame was thrust into action in the second period against the New York Rangers on Sunday when Ward - last season's Conn Smythe trophy winner - suffered a leg laceration that required 11 stitches. Grahame stopped all 13 shots he faced in regulation and overtime of that game, which resulted in a 2-1 shootout loss.
He was just as good Tuesday, making 26 saves in Carolina's 3-1 victory over visiting Florida.
"There's no point in being timid or being afraid," Grahame said. "You just have to go out there and be confident and strut your stuff, so to speak."
Grahame's best saves came during a Panthers' power-play in the second period. He stopped Olli Jokinen, Florida's leading scorer, on two attempts from the slot - the second with his shoulder.
"Your best penalty killer is your goalie," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "When he makes those saves, it makes it real easy."
Carolina's penalty-killing unit has allowed only one power-play goal in the last 11 games, going 42-for-43 since Feb. 17.
Meanwhile, though, the Hurricanes' power play has struggled. Scott Walker's second-period goal Tuesday snapped an 0-for-34 drought with the man advantage.
Carolina (35-28-8) is 3-1-1 in its past five games and tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with the Islanders, who have two games in hand.
"Things are going in the right direction," Carolina forward Justin Williams said. "We're getting a lot of chances, and we've been doing that for the past four or five games whereas earlier we weren't really generating very much."
New Jersey (42-20-8) was shut out for the first time in nearly three months Wednesday, falling 3-0 at home to Pittsburgh. The Devils, who had points in six of their previous seven games, missed an opportunity to tie Buffalo for the Eastern Conference lead.
The loss also sliced their lead over the Penguins in the Atlantic to six points.
"I think we missed a bunch of good opportunities early in the game," Devils center John Madden said. "They came out flat and we missed some good opportunities. They just kept chipping away, the way they should have after their game last night. They kept putting the puck deep and we kept turning it over."
One of New Jersey's two injured players returned Wednesday, as defenseman Colin White played nearly 20 minutes after missing two games with a hand injury. Right wing Brian Gionta sat out for the 11th time in 13 games with a groin problem and is not expected to play Thursday.
Martin Brodeur, who made 19 saves Wednesday, has won his last four starts against Carolina, two of them shutouts.
The Devils have won four straight meetings between the clubs, including both this season. New Jersey is 5-1-0 in its last six regular-season visits to Carolina.
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