HURRICANES (33-32-16) at PANTHERS (37-26-18)
TV: FS-Carolinas (HD)
Last 10: Carolina 6-3-1; Florida 2-3-5
Season Series: It's the last of this season's six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Florida won the first four before losing 3-1 in Raleigh on March 21.
Big Story: The Panthers are headed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000, but they need one more point (or any kind of a loss by Washington) to win the Southeast Division title -- the first in franchise history.
Hurricanes: The 'Canes are ending the season on a positive note -- they moved over the break-even mark with a 2-1 shootout win against Montreal on Thursday in their home finals. They'll be dressing one player on Saturday who was wearing a different uniform two nights ago -- Union College forward Jeremy Welch, whose team lost to Ferris State at the Frozen Four in Tampa on Thursday, quickly signed a contract and will make his NHL debut.
"It's a lot of emotion, I'm sure," coach Kirk Muller said. "I'm sure he's going through an emotional roller-coaster of being a good team guy and going through that, being excited about it and then all of a sudden losing out. That was a close game yesterday. All that heartbreak there, and then all of a sudden you turn around and then realize, 'hey, I'm a couple days away from playing my first NHL game.'"
Panthers: Florida's first playoff berth since 2000 was assured on Thursday night when Buffalo lost 2-1 at Philadelphia -- a game that ended a few minutes before the Panthers finished losing 4-2 at Washington.
"It's been tough," said center Stephen Weiss, who's spent 10 seasons with the Panthers without making the playoffs until now. "You go home early in the summer and you wonder if you're doing the right thing for yourself, for your career. You want to be loyal, but at the same time you only get so many years to play, and you want to try and play playoff hockey and win Stanley Cups. I'm excited to get my first taste."
Who's Hot: Carolina goaltender Cam Ward has won back-to-back starts, allowing just two goals on 70 shots. … Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann has five points in his last five games and is having a career year with 27 goals and 61 points.
Stat Pack: Carolina's shootout win was its first in seven tiebreakers this season. The 'Canes avoided becoming the second team in the seven years of the shootout to go a full season without a victory. The '06-07 'Canes went 0-6. … The Panthers have equaled the NHL record for most post-regulation losses; Tampa Bay dropped 18 games that went beyond 60 minutes in 2008-09.
Puck Drop: The Panthers will begin their game about an hour after Washington's game begins in New York, so the players and fans will have a pretty good idea of what has to happen for Florida to win the division.
And make no mistake, the Panthers really want to go into the playoffs with a division title on their resume."We've got one more game, and we know what's at stake," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "It would be nice to put a banner in our building. I think any time you win a division, you have to be proud of that. If someone told me at the beginning of the year that it was going to come down to the last game, I'd take it."
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