Jason Brough

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) blocks a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) with Hurricanes' Victor Rask (49) also defending during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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‘Canes feeling confident, but can they get the goaltending?

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The Carolina Hurricanes don’t intend to play scared against the high-powered Washington Capitals.

Why should they? The ‘Canes are actually playing some pretty decent hockey themselves. They’re 5-2-1 in their last eight.

“We’re going to try and have the puck and make them defend,” coach Bill Peters told NHL.com. “We’re not going to defend, defend, defend, chip it in and let them come at us. We’re going to try and make them play in their defensive zone and play a puck possession game ourselves.”

Of course, puck possession is one of the Hurricanes’ strengths. They rank among the NHL’s best in team Corsi.

It’s goaltending that’s really hurt them this season. Which is why it was so encouraging when Cam Ward made 37 saves in a 2-1 win over the Penguins on Saturday.

“I made a couple of good saves early that got me into the game,” Ward said, per CBS Pittsburgh. “I don’t really care what anybody says about the Penguins; they’ve got a really good team over there, some high-end skill, and you really have to be on your toes. Fortunately, tonight I felt really comfortable.”

Suffice to say, if Carolina is going to take a run at a playoff spot, Ward and backup Eddie Lack will need to be a lot better, because there’s a lot of ground to be made up in the standings.

With almost half the season in the books, Ward has an .899 save percentage. Lack’s is even worse, .876.

“To be honest, I don’t think it could have gone any worse,” Lack told The Province recently.

In the article, it was strongly suggested that Lack’s style may not be a good fit for Carolina’s goalie coach, David Marcoux.

“Here, they want me to challenge more,” said Lack. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been an adjustment. At times, it’s been really hard.”

Not surprisingly, Ward will start in goal tonight versus the Caps.

Related: ‘In five of our losses, we clearly were the better team’

Canucks admit they’re playing overtime to get to the shootout

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, left, stops a shot by Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
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For the Vancouver Canucks, a win in overtime has been downgraded from actually winning to simply not losing.

Their 3-on-3 strategy was on full display yesterday in Florida, where the Canucks were outshot 8-1 in the extra frame before falling in the shootout. 

Vancouver is 0-7 in overtime this season. Hence, the new approach.

“The way we play in OT, we started talking to each other, saying let’s just play these tight defensively and we’ll take our chances in the shootout,” Daniel Sedin told The Province.

“Our thought is, play it like a PK. When you start skating around that gets tiring. Now, we’re standing still and just trying to defend the slot. It’s not pretty, but that’s the way we have to play.”

But is it? Because the Canucks are only 2-2 in the shootout. And let’s face it, they easily could have lost yesterday in overtime.

In other words, is accepting what’s essentially a zero percent chance of winning in 3-on-3 (while still assuming a significant risk of losing) worth it to gain a 50-50 shot of winning in the shootout?

For the Canucks, apparently the answer is yes.

We’ll see how that works out for them.

Varlamov, Oshie and Koivu are NHL’s three stars of the week

Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, Capitals winger T.J. Oshie and Wild center Mikko Koivu have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Varlamov went 3-0-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average, .981 save percentage and one shutout to help the Avalanche (17-16-1, 35 points) extend their winning streak to five games, their longest such run since March 25 – April 5, 2014 (6-0-0).

Oshie paced the NHL with five goals and shared the League lead with eight points as the Capitals (24-6-2, 50 points) won all four of their games to move into first place in the overall standings.

Koivu tied for first in the NHL with 3-5—8 in three games to lift the Wild (17-8-6, 40 points) to a pair of wins.

Related: For streaking Avs, Varlamov has ‘been our best player, no doubt’

The Florida Panthers are on a roll

Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr (68) is congratulated by forward Aleksander Barkov (16) and forward Jonathan Huberdeau (11) after scoring the go-ahead goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
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Yesterday in Sunrise, Jaromir Jagr passed Marcel Dionne to become the NHL’s fourth-leading goalscorer of all time, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Brett Hull.

That was the story everyone was talking about, and rightly so.

But you know what else happened? Florida won its fourth straight, beating Vancouver in a shootout. With 10 wins in their last 13, the Panthers have climbed to within three points of first-place Montreal in the Atlantic Division.

“The goal is sweet but the win is even sweeter,” Jagr told the Miami Herald.

And things could get even sweeter soon. The Panthers have five straight home games to add to their three-point playoff cushion. Ottawa pays a visit Tuesday, followed by the Christmas break. Then it’s Columbus, Montreal, New York (Rangers), and Minnesota.

Remember that this is a team that came into the season with high expectations for itself. The Panthers may not have received much national attention, but there was good reason to believe they could make a run at the postseason.

“It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable,” goalie Roberto Luongo said over the summer.

“I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”

Related: New Panthers jerseys, logo will look ‘completely different’

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Team USA coach raves about Matthews

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 04:  Auston Matthews #19 of USA White skates against Team Finland during the 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 4, 2014 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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All eyes will be on Auston Matthews when the World Junior Championship kicks off Saturday in Finland.

Ron Wilson’s eyes have already seen Matthews in action, and Team USA’s coach could hardly be more impressed with the teenage forward.

“He just has a knack for going hard all the time,” Wilson told the Toronto Sun. “Matthews controls the puck, he sees the ice really well. And he can dish the puck and make passes like I’ve rarely seen as a coach.”

Barring the most unforeseen of circumstances, Matthews will be the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. He’s been plying his trade in Switzerland this season as a professional. The 18-year-old who grew up in Arizona has 14 goals and 11 assists in 22 games for Zurich.

Team USA’s first game is Saturday against tournament favorite Canada.

Related: Marc Crawford says Auston Matthews has been ‘phenomenal’