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HURRICANES (0-0-0) at PANTHERS (0-0-0)
TV: FS-CR, FS-F
Season series: Saturday's season opener for the Hurricanes and Panthers marks the first of four meetings between the divisional foes in 2012-13. Last season, Florida claimed victories in five of six head-to-head games against Carolina, including a memorable 4-1 win on home ice in its season finale to clinch the first division title in franchise history.
Big story: After adding potent forwards Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin this offseason, the Hurricanes look to make an early statement Saturday at BB&T Center against the reigning Southeast Division champion Panthers.
Hurricanes: After Carolina allowed 2.89 goals per game last season (sixth-most in the NHL) en route to a last-place finish in the Southeast, the summer splash came at an important time for a franchise that has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
The Canes acquired captain Eric Staal's brother, Jordan, on the night of the 2012 NHL Draft and Semin in late July to bolster an already formidable group of top-six forwards. The team also storms into the new season with a revamped defensive front after adding Marc-Andre Gragnani and former Hurricane Joe Corvo. Their efforts to improve on the blue line may be just what the doctor ordered for Cam Ward, who hopes to rebound after a disappointing season.
"Especially with the late start, that's going to pay off greatly," defenseman Jay Harrison told The News & Observer in Raleigh. "We have that unspoken communication ability. Last year, we experienced some injuries and had to play with each other all the time, not to mention Joe has been here, we've all played with Joe before. That transition is relatively seamless as well."
Panthers: After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000 and taking the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils to the brink in their opening round series last April, Florida charges into the 2012-13 season with higher expectations than ever.
The team's top line carried the load offensively a season ago, as its trio of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg tallied 70 of the team's 197 goals (35.5 percent). But in order to address the Panthers' glaring lack of scoring depth, general manager Dale Tallon signed Peter Mueller back in July and veteran Alex Kovalev on the eve of the team's season opener to one-year contracts.
With Jonathan Huberdeau, the third pick in the 2011 draft, also fighting for a roster spot at training camp, the Panthers hope these new faces can give them enough firepower to carry over the momentum from last year into the upcoming 48-game regular season.
"I'm really pumped about our future," Tallon told NHL.com. "We had a great year last year, but our future even looks better. And that's what I'm excited about."
Injury report: Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu has been sidelined after hip surgery and will reportedly be out until at least April. … Sean Bergenheim (groin), Marcel Goc (groin) and Erik Gudbranson (shoulder) are suspended following injuries sustained during the work stoppage. Tallon has indicated the suspensions will be lifted once they are cleared for contact.