PANTHERS (15-14-7) at HURRICANES (8-20-6)
Last 10: Florida 5-2-3; Carolina 3-6-1
Season series: Fourth of six meetings this season and the second in as many nights, as the teams complete a home-and-home. Florida got goals from six different players in a 6-3 victory at the BankAtlantic Center on Friday, giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead in the series. They also won 3-0 at home on Nov. 4, while the Hurricanes scored a 7-2 triumph in Carolina on Oct. 9.
Big story: Florida owns a four-point lead for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot after winning Friday. While that might not seem like much, at least it gets the Panthers out of the logjam directly below them. Four teams are tied for ninth, the 13th-place Flyers are just five points out, and the 14th-place Maple Leafs are only six points back. The Hurricanes are the only team in the East that would need a miraculous second half to reach the postseason, as they are currently 15 points behind the Panthers.
Panthers: Tomas Vokoun started Friday and stopped 32 shots. Florida supported him with goals by defensemen Jordan Leopold, Bryan McCabe and Keith Ballard and forwards Rostislav Olesz, Radek Dvorak and Dominic Moore. It was the fourth win in five games for the Panthers.
"Just want to keep rolling here," McCabe said. "We've got three games before the (Christmas) break and looking to get another big win (Saturday) and keep this thing going."
Hurricanes:Patrick Dwyer, Scott Walker and Eric Staal scored for Carolina, but this was Cam Ward's poorest showing since he returned last week from a laceration to his leg. Ward stopped 21 of 26 shots and was lifted after Olesz and Dvorak scored 37 seconds apart in the third. The Hurricanes fell to 1-13-4 on the road.
"We had a hard time doing a lot of basic things, moving the puck," coach Paul Maurice said. "They were just better than we were tonight at the end of the day."
Who's hot: Panthers leading scorer Nathan Horton has three goals and seven assists during a five-game points streak. Stephen Weiss has three goals and five assists during a five-game points streak. McCabe has goals in consecutive games and a four-game points streak.
After a slow start and an injury, Staal has three goals and three assists during a four-game points streak for the Hurricanes. Tuomo Ruutu has three goals and two assists during a three-game points streak. Joni Pitkanen has nine assists in his last seven games.
Injury report: The bumps and bruises are starting to mount for Florida, which played Friday without Kamil Kreps (upper body), Bryan Allen (knee) and Nick Tarnasky (broken orbital bone). Already on injured reserve are David Booth (concussion), Cory Stillman (knee), Kenndal McArdle (shoulder/arm) and Gregory Campbell (concussion-like symptoms).
Carolina defensemen Niclas Wallin (upper body) and Tim Gleason (concussion-like symptoms/facial laceration) didn't play Friday. Forwards Chad LaRose (lower body) and Erik Cole (upper body) are out several weeks. Defenseman Joe Corvo had leg surgery and will miss 2-3 months. Casey Borer (broken neck) and Michael Ryan (concussion) have not played yet this season.
"As banged up as we are, Carolina is even more banged up, so I think we're catching a wounded animal but to our credit we found a way to get the two points, which is the critical part," Florida coach Pete DeBoer said after Friday's game.
Stat pack: Scoring first is often a recipe for success in the NHL, but it hasn't meant much to either of these teams. The Hurricanes have won just 29.4 percent of the games in which they've scored first, dead last in the League, while the Panthers are just two slots higher at 46.7 percent. The only other team that has won less than half of its games when scoring first is Anaheim (41.2 percent).
Puck drop: It must seem to the Hurricanes like eons ago when they routed the Panthers and were .500 for the season, having split their first four games. At least they're back at the RBC Center, where they've played only twice in December but have won both games.