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LAST 10: Florida 4-5-1; Carolina 5-3-2
Season Series: The Panthers have won both meetings so far this season, though the most recent matchup went to overtime.
Big Story: Florida will try to reclaim the lead in the Southeast Division, while Carolina could be within six points of the Panthers with a regulation victory.
Panthers: Florida had a great chance to take control of the Southeast, and if the Panthers don't win it or make the playoffs, they will look back to the just-completed four-game homestand as one of the biggest reasons why. The Panthers went 0-3-1, including a 2-1 loss to Washington that proved to be the Capitals' lone win on their four-game road trip.
Given the games in hand on Winnipeg, just spitting those four games would have made the Panthers the clear favorites to claim the division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Florida hasn't participated in the NHL's postseason tournament since 2000, and the Panthers haven't won a playoff game since 1997.
"We can't expect other teams to lose every game. We have to bear down and do our part," Mikael Samuelsson told reporters after a loss Thursday to Minnesota. "If you're not winning games, you're not making the playoffs."
Hurricanes : If the season had started in mid-January, Carolina might be preparing for a trip to the postseason. The Hurricanes are 9-3-5 since a Jan. 10 loss to Philadelphia, including Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim.
Carolina has actually secured the most points of any Southeast Division team since Jan. 12 - the Hurricanes have 23 while Winnipeg and Tampa Bay have 22, Florida has 16 and Washington has 15.
Who's Hot : Florida center Stephen Weiss had an assist in his franchise-record 614th game, and he has four points in his past six games after having six in his previous 18 contests. Sean Bergenheim scored against the Wild, and he has nine goals in the past 15 games. … Carolina captain Eric Staal struggled at the start of this season, but he's playing at an All-Star level right now. He has 11 goals and 30 points in his past 23 games, including six goals and 12 points in his past seven contests.
Injury Report : The Panthers are without defensemen Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and Jason Harrison (lower body) and forwards Scottie Upshall (sports hernia), Marco Sturm (knee), Marcel Goc (lower body), John Madden (foot) and Matt Bradley (concussion). … The Hurricanes have been playing without goalie Cam Ward (lower body), defenseman Joni Pitkanen (concussion) and forwards Tuomo Ruutu (upper body) and Chad LaRose (upper body).
Stat Pack : Two of the League's best at drawing penalties will square off in this contest. Carolina's Jeff Skinner is second in the League, drawing 2.5 minor penalties per 60 minutes played. Bergenheim is tied for 15th at 1.7 infractions for 60 minutes drawn. Bergenheim does negate a lot of that value by taking 1.6 penalties per 60 minutes.
Puck Drop : Ward could play for the Hurricanes against the Panthers, though backup Justin Peters has been sound in net in the past two games while Carolina's franchise goaltender has been out.
Though they start the night eight points out of a playoff berth, the 'Canes aren't throwing in the towel.
"They're games, when we're in the position we're in, we've got to beat these type of teams that are ahead of us," coach Kirk Muller told Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer. "We've got the opportunity. You win these games because if you don't it separates the distance even more so.
"So tomorrow's a big game for us. We're aware of it. They're all big now."