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'Canes aim to extend win streak against Panthers

by Brian Compton /
PANTHERS (17-17-2) at HURRICANES (18-15-4)

Last 10: Florida 5-3-2; Carolina 7-3-0.

Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Carolina has won two of the first three, including the most recent meeting on Dec. 15, when the Hurricanes earned a 4-3 victory against the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

Big Story: Inconsistency plagued the Hurricanes earlier in the season, but they enter Monday's action just five points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has won seven of its last 10 games and is coming off a 6-3 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at the RBC Center.

"There's still  a lot we can improve on," rookie forward Jeff Skinner said.
Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida moved back to the .500 mark on Sunday with an impressive 3-0 victory against the New York Rangers at the BankAtlantic Center. Tomas Vokoun made 32 saves for the Panthers for his fifth shutout of the season and helped his club improve to 4-1-2 in its last seven games.

"Tomas played a great game for us. He deserves a little more lead than just one and we gave it to him," said forward Chris Higgins, who scored for Florida. "He shut the door on them and obviously you can get a little momentum when Vokie's making those big saves like he did."

Hurricanes: Tuomo Ruutu led the way with one goal and three assists, while Skinner and Sergei Samsonov had two goals apiece in Saturday's win that saw Devils goalie Martin Brodeur pulled after allowing three goals in the game's first eight minutes.

"It was a real good first period, and a lot of what we did in the Ottawa game I thought we brought home with us," said coach Paul Maurice, referring his team's 4-0 win against the Sens last Wednesday. "We got away from those things, and they're hard things to do and they're not a lot of fun like staying onto the puck and grinding and all those good things. It's a work in progress to get everyone to do it consistently."

Who's Hot: Panthers forward David Booth scored a power-play goal Sunday and has points in three straight games. Stephen Weiss added an empty-net tally, his 12th of the season. … Skinner has three goals during Carolina's three-game winning streak.

Injury Report: Florida forward Byron Bitz is out due to a sports hernia. … Jussi Jokinen (upper body) and Joni Pitkanen (lower body) are questionable for Carolina, while Jiri Tlusty (upper body) is out.

Stat Pack: Florida is at the .500 mark for the first time since it was 9-9-0 on Nov. 20. … Hurricanes center Eric Staal is tied for fourth place in franchise history with 254 assists.

Puck Drop:  "He looks like he's getting stronger, especially in the last two games. "I don't know if he can do it all year, but since he's gone back to center, he's playing like he’s trying to prove that he can play center ice in the NHL. He looks like he's going to be able to do it." -- Carolina coach Paul Maurice on rookie Jeff Skinner

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