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Eastern Conference: Southeast
Sarah Kwak
October 08, 2007
CAROLINA Hurricanes
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October 08, 2007

Eastern Conference: Southeast

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CAROLINA Hurricanes

LAST SEASON 40-34-8 (11th in East)

KEY ADDITIONS C Matt Cullen, C Jeff Hamilton

KEY LOSSES D Anton Babchuk, D David Tanabe, C Josef Vasicek

When Cam Ward signed a three-year contract in May, the deal obligated him to report to training camp in better shape than he did last season. Well, Ward's pants fit a whole lot looser these days. The 23-year-old goalie dropped 24 pounds in the off-season, reporting at a svelte 176 pounds (he's 6' 1"). "I feel a lot better on the ice, a lot quicker, and my stamina's better," says Ward, who embarked on a cardio-training program and a low-carb, high-protein diet after putting up a meager .897 save percentage. "I see other players putting on a 20-pound vest [while working out] to make it harder for them. It's like I took that 20-pound vest off."

After becoming the first Stanley Cup champions since the 1994-95 Devils to miss the playoffs the following season, the Hurricanes have rededicated themselves to conditioning and to the importance of maintaining intensity even at the beginning of the marathon regular season. "[Last year] our practices were not at a high tempo like they were two years ago," says G.M. Jim Rutherford, whose team plodded to a 15-14-4 start. "Guys were recovering from a long season, and it was hard to get the energy back."

The hangover was further complicated by the normal distractions for a Cup-winning team: heightened media scrutiny, requests for photo ops, etc. Now, says center Rod Brind'Amour, "we don't have to deal with talking about the past or with going to this or that event. All that stuff takes away from what you're trying to do."

Along with Brind'Amour, whose 82 points last year were his most since 1995-96, The Hurricanes had a strong nucleus of forwards built around top-liners Eric Staal and Erik Cole. They'll also be buoyed by the return of center Matt Cullen, who spent last season with the Rangers. Says Cullen, distilling the refocused Hurricanes' cause for optimism, "Our lineup looks a lot like it did when we won it."

TAMPA BAY Lightning

LAST SEASON 44-33-5 (seventh in East); lost to Devils in first round

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