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An impressive home winning streak has put the Carolina Hurricanes in position for their first playoff appearance since their run to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
A timely road victory Monday night would go a long way toward them achieving that goal.
A win in Miami would give the Hurricanes a seven-point lead in the Eastern Conference over the Florida Panthers, who are desperately trying to reverse a late-season stumble and end a nine-year playoff drought.
The Hurricanes (39-28-7) have been one of the league's hottest teams during the past month, averaging more than four goals while going 11-3-2 since Feb. 19.
Their home winning streak reached eight with a 4-1 victory over Washington on Saturday night, as they scored three times in the third period and Cam Ward stopped 31 shots. Coach Paul Maurice's club plays five of its last eight at home.
While Carolina hasn't been as good on the road, going 0-1-2 on its most recent trip, it will have added incentive to win Monday. The ninth-place Panthers (35-27-10) trail their Southeast Division rival by five points, but have two games in hand.
"We're not secure yet, plus we want to play like we're building toward something," Carolina's Erik Cole told the team's official Web site. "We want to be playing a certain way heading into the playoffs."
Cole has contributed to the Hurricanes' offensive outburst with two goals and eight assists in nine games since being reacquired from Edmonton. He spent his first six seasons with Carolina.
Veteran Rod Brind'Amour has also stepped up for the Hurricanes with five goals and five assists in his last eight contests, including a goal Saturday. Defensemen Joni Pitkanen, Anton Babchuk and Joe Corvo also scored against the Capitals.
"Our defense has had a huge impact on how we play," Maurice said. "You are seeing some offensive creativity."
The Panthers are badly in need of some scoring as they try to reach the postseason for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They've scored one or no goals three times in their last six games, going 1-3-2 to fall out of playoff position.
Florida led 1-0 for most of the game against visiting Columbus on Saturday, but the Blue Jackets scored three times in the final three minutes for a 3-1 victory.
"I really thought we did a lot of things well tonight, other than win," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "I don't have an answer. We're not putting up any white flags, there's a lot of hockey left."
The Panthers can move back into eighth place on Monday as they trail Montreal by one point. Both teams have 10 games remaining.
In the final meeting between Carolina and Florida, the Hurricanes will be looking to even a season series that has favored the Panthers. Florida hasn't had offensive problems this season against Carolina, scoring three goals or more in four of the five matchups and winning three of them. Carolina has lost both games in Miami.
The most recent meeting was the ugliest for the Hurricanes, who lost 5-0 at home Feb. 12. Ward was pulled after giving up four goals on 13 shots, the third time in 13 career starts against Florida that he has been chased.
The Panthers' Tomas Vokoun has been considerably better versus Carolina. He stopped 42 shots in that contest and is 3-0-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Hurricanes.