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Hurricanes go for eight as they meet Panthers

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (26-30-7) at PANTHERS (25-28-10)

Last 10: Carolina 8-2-0; Florida 2-7-1

Season series:
Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Southeast Division rivals. The Hurricanes have taken three of the first five matchups, including a 4-1 win on Feb. 9 in the most recent matchup. Each team has received balanced scoring, with a dozen players on each side registering at least one goal. However, the player with the most goals in the season series -- Matt Cullen, with three -- was traded from Carolina to Ottawa last month.

Big story:
Two more victories and the Hurricanes would tie the club record of nine straight wins. That this could happen in a season that was all but considered lost at the start of February is a huge surprise, especially considering franchise goalie Cam Ward is once again on the shelf and the team traded several key players prior to the March 3 deadline. However, it's possible Carolina could climb as high as 12th in the Eastern Conference standings by the end of Saturday.

Team Scope:

The fourth line sparked Carolina to an early two-goal lead against Ottawa on Thursday, as Tom Kostopoulos and Rod Brind'Amour scored 65 seconds apart in the first period. Chad LaRose, recently back from injury, added a goal and Brandon Sutter scored into an empty net to seal a 4-1 win. Even with Jussi Jokinen's 10-game points streak coming to an end, Eric Staal limited to an assist and the lineup altered by several deadline deals, the 'Canes keep rolling.

"Whoever we're putting in there, we're working hard for each other and that's the spirited thing about this group now," Brind'Amour said. "And we're playing for the fans who are supporting us. The crowds have been great all year … and hopefully we can make it exciting and give them something to cheer about."

Wednesday night must have felt like Christmas in Florida -- after going 14 games without scoring more than two goals, the Panthers absolutely erupted and buried the visiting Flyers by a 7-4 score. Michael Frolik scored twice and David Booth, who missed most of the season following a devastating hit in an October game in Philadelphia, recorded a goal and three assists. Perhaps no goalie ever deserved a win when giving up four goals more than Tomas Vokoun, who is 20-21-10 this season despite leading the League in saves and being tied for first in shutouts.

"Hopefully we got off the schneid here and we consistently give Voky some goal support," said captain Bryan McCabe, who had an empty-net goal and three assists. "God knows he's been unbelievable for us this whole season, it's about time we give him some goal support."

Who's hot:
Sutter, who had one goal and six points in 50 games as a rookie for the Hurricanes, has three goals and six points in his last four games. He has 16 goals and 31 points in his sophomore season. LaRose has two goals and two assists in his first two games back in the lineup.

Stephen Weiss has goals in three straight games for the Panthers. Booth has two goals and four assists in his last two games.

Injury report:
Ward's return for Carolina this season is uncertain due to back problems. … Florida forward Nathan Horton remains out with a broken tibia.

Stat pack: Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace has recorded a win against all 30 current NHL teams after he beat the Senators. … Frolik snapped a 16-game goal drought for the Panthers with his pair against the Flyers.

Puck drop:
Byron Bitz will make his Florida debut after being acquired from Boston on Wednesday. He'll skate on the second line with Steven Reinprecht and Cory Stillman.

"He gives those two guys some size. He gives them some speed. He gives them a guy that's going to go in and create some turnovers on the forecheck," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "Those guys have to play with somebody with size and speed.

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