RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 27: Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena on December 27, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Penguins defeated the Hurricanes 4-3. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Streaking ‘Canes return captain Staal, Tlusty and Nash vs. Calgary


Winners in five of their last six, the Carolina Hurricanes kick off a three-game homestand tonight against the Flames — and they’ll do it in style.

Captain Eric Staal, out since Jan. 4 with an injury, will return to the lineup, as will forwards Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) and Riley Nash (lower body), according to ‘Canes web producer Michael Smith.

Staal, tied with Jeff Skinner for the club’s scoring lead with 35 points, has recovered sufficiently enough from his lower-body ailment to help the ‘Canes in their playoff push. Despite a setback in Columbus on Saturday (3-0 loss), the ‘Canes — who were 14-16-9 on Dec. 29 — have pushed to within two points of Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and three back of the Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division.

Tlusty, who scored a career-high 23 goals last year, has just 10 points through 37 games this year but will add depth to a forward group that’s been banged up as of late. Nash, a former first-round pick, seems to have found his niche in Carolina as a two-way checking forward — he’s notched a career-high 10 points this season and was averaging nearly 12 minutes per game prior to getting hurt.

Diaz could leave Rangers for Europe

Raphael Diaz, Mike Sislo
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Could Raphael Diaz be on his way back to Switzerland?

We’ll know in a month.

Diaz, who lost out on the Rangers’ final blueline spot in training camp, has reported to the club’s AHL affiliate in Hartford but doesn’t seem pleased with his current situation, per the Post:

The 29-year-old Diaz, who cleared waivers last Saturday after the Blueshirts opted to keep rookie Dylan McIlrath as the club’s seventh on the blue line, is interested in the European option if he is not in the NHL.

The Blueshirts have told Diaz they will revisit the situation at the end of October, but have not promised to release him or assign him to a European team at that point.

If Diaz, a Swiss native who represented Switzerland in the 2014 Olympics, does play in Europe during the season, he would have to go through waivers in order to return to the NHL.

Diaz’s agent, Ritch Winter, told the Post that Diaz signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Rangers “to play with the Rangers.”

And it’s understandable if Diaz — a journeyman offensive defenseman — isn’t happy with this situation.

While some believe McIlrath earned his roster spot on merit, some think it’s because of his contract status. McIlrath, who’s only 23 and a former first-round pick, would’ve needed to clear waivers to go back to Hartford, and it’s believed he would’ve been claimed by another club.

Canucks say Markstrom (hamstring) out another week — could it be longer?

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Bit of uncertainty out of Vancouver regarding the health of backup goalie Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, a late drop from the Canucks’ 5-1 opening-night win over Calgary, has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for another week, the club announced on Thursday.

With Markstrom out, backup duties will stay with AHL call-up Richard Bachman, who served as Ryan Miller‘s No. 2 on Wednesday.

Now, the focus turns to how long Bachman keeps those duties.

Per a Sportsnet report, Markstrom could miss up to three weeks of action with his injury. If that’s the case, Bachman will almost certainly be called into action; the Canucks will play eight games in 17 nights starting with Saturday’s home-opener against the Flames, which includes back-to-backs in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Oct. 12 and 13.

It would be asking a lot of the No. 1, 35-year-old Ryan Miller, to shoulder that entire load.

Bachman does have some NHL experience, with nearly 50 games to his credit. That includes a 3-2-0 record with the Oilers last year, in which he posted a 2.84 GAA and .911 save percentage.