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'Canes continue trip at Florida

by Brian Compton
HURRICANES (26-27-15) at PANTHERS (31-23-13)


Last 10: Carolina 4-2-4; Florida 4-4-2.

Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings between the Southeast Division rivals. Florida is 3-0 against Carolina this season, outscoring the 'Canes by a 9-5 margin along the way.

Big Story: Carolina is slowly but surely creeping back into playoff contention. With Saturday night's 4-2 win at Tampa Bay, the Hurricanes moved within one point of 12th-place Toronto and remained just seven back of eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference race.

"We're quietly sneaking up on teams and it's kind of nice that everybody's talking about everybody but us," said coach Kirk Muller, whose team has earned points in four straight games. "We're putting points together, we're playing some good road hockey right now and we're doing it as a team. Everyone's pitching in, doing their roles and we're finding ways to pick up points."

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Locked in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes Saturday night, Carolina came up big in the third period as Jeff Skinner gave his team the lead at 6:36 before Chad LaRose sealed the deal with an empty-net tally at 19:38 to give the Hurricanes the all-important victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Cam Ward made 36 saves for his 199th career win.

"(Tied) on the road going to the third, those are big games, especially down the stretch," Skinner said. "Ward was huge for us. The whole team contributed."

Panthers: March hasn't been kind to Florida thus far, as the Panthers enter Sunday's action with losses -- two via shutout -- in four of five games this month. Their recent slide has trimmed their division lead to just one point over Washington and three over Winnipeg.

"The outcome is important at this time of the year, but it's a process," coach Kevin Dineen said. "At the end of the day, it's how you play."

Who's Hot: Skinner has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last three games. … Panthers winger Wojtek Wolski has 2 goals and 2 assists in nine games since being acquired from the New York Rangers.

Injury Report: 'Canes forward Jiri Tlusty left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury, while Drayson Bowman has been sick and Joni Pitkanen is out with a concussion. … Florida is expected to be without Scottie Upshall (sports hernia), Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Matt Bradley (concussion) and Kris Versteeg (lower body).

Stat Pack: Skinner has 2 goals and 3 assists in three career games at the BankAtlantic Center. … Florida is 8-2-2 on home ice against Carolina dating back to Dec. 2007. … According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Panthers haven't been atop their division this late in the season since March 10, 2000.

Puck Drop: "Chemistry is a huge word. You can think people match up on paper properly, but it doesn't always work that way. When you do get that chemistry, you want to stay with it." -- Carolina coach Kirk Muller

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