The Florida Panthers are becoming very tough to beat at home. It will take much more than that, however, for them to get into playoff position.
Florida (17-21-9) looks to stretch its home win streak to five and improve its record against the Southeast Division on Tuesday night when it faces the Carolina Hurricanes (24-18-5).
Only league-worst Philadelphia has more ground to make up in the Eastern Conference than Florida, which is seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Panthers have played much better lately, earning at least a point in 10 of their last 13 games (7-3-3). They've outscored opponents 18-7 during the four-game home winning streak, and have points in six straight (5-0-1) at the BankAtlantic Center.
Florida captain Olli Jokinen has six goals and three assists during a six-game point streak. He also has five goals and four assists in his past four contests against Carolina.
"We're at the point where we can't slip anymore," Jokinen said. "There's only one team that could catch us in the standings and we have 13 in front of us. There's no reason to start looking back now."
Stephen Weiss recorded his first career hat trick and Florida had a season-high 53 shots on goal Saturday in a 7-3 victory over visiting Washington.
"It feels good. I was wondering if I was ever going to get one of those," Weiss said. "It was one of those nights where the bounces went my way. It was a big win and we had a solid game."
All-Star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had two goals and two assists for the Panthers, who had lost 11 in a row (0-10-1) against Southeast opponents before Saturday. Florida is 3-11-1 against its own division.
Ed Belfour need to make only 14 saves as the Panthers improved to 6-1-2 in his last nine starts. Florida, meanwhile, is 1-3-1 in Alex Auld's last five games.
Carolina had its three-game win streak snapped Saturday with a 4-3 shootout loss to first-place Atlanta.
"It's always tough when you lose in a shootout because what you were trying to accomplish in the game is over," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette told the team's official Web site. "I like them, I'm in favor of them, but it's tough to lose that way."
Goaltender Cam Ward took responsibility for the loss, blaming himself for allowing Bobby Holik's long goal midway through the third period.
"It cost us the game," Ward said. "It was my fault."
Ward, who made his eighth straight start, has surrendered more than three goals in regulation only once in his last 13 games.
All-Star right wing Justin Williams scored his team-leading 22nd goal Saturday, and 11th in 16 games. Left wing Ray Whitney also scored, giving him two goals and four assists in his past four contests.
Florida won the first meeting of the season with Carolina 6-3 at home Oct. 11, but the Hurricanes have taken the last three. Carolina scored five goals in less than 10 minutes in the third period Thursday to rally for an improbable 6-4 victory over the Panthers.
|Apr 07 '07||FLA 4 at CAR 5 - OT||R. Brind'Amour|
|Apr 01 '07||CAR 4 at FLA 3 - OT||R. Whitney|
|Mar 13 '07||FLA 1 at CAR 3||S. Walker|
|Jan 16 '07||CAR 3 at FLA 2 - OT||J. Williams|
|Jan 11 '07||FLA 4 at CAR 6||C. Adams|
|Dec 26 '06||FLA 2 at CAR 4||S. Walker|
|Dec 23 '06||CAR 3 at FLA 2 - OT||E. Cole|
|Oct 11 '06||CAR 3 at FLA 6||G. Roberts|