PANTHERS (24-25-9) at HURRICANES (21-30-7)
Florida 4-5-1; Carolina 7-3-0
Fifth of six meetings this season between Southeast Division rivals. They have split the first four matchups, with the home team winning each time. The Hurricanes cruised 7-2 on Oct. 9, as Jussi Jokinen
recorded a goal and two assists. Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun recorded the shutout on Nov. 4, making 32 saves in a 3-0 victory. A home-and-home was split, with the Panthers winning 6-3 on Dec. 18 and the Hurricanes prevailing 4-3 the following night.
Florida is hanging right on the outer edges of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Carolina isn't quite so lucky, trailing in the race by double digits, but the 'Canes would close to within six points of the Panthers with a regulation win Tuesday, so they can't be counted out just yet.
Only three games remain before the Olympic break for Florida, which returns home after this game to host Vancouver and Boston. If the Panthers could rev up their offense during that time, it would serve them well. Vokoun was enough to carry them for a while, but now their goal-scoring woes have caught up and they've lost three straight and six of nine. That includes a 4-2 loss to Atlanta on Saturday in which Florida let a two-goal, first-period lead slip away.
"We had the game under control. We were up by two goals, then the game shifted a little bit to their side," said forward Radek Dvorak, who had both Florida goals to end a 15-game drought.
Hurricanes: Cam Ward
is back on the shelf again, at least temporarily, but Carolina rolls on in his absence. The Hurricanes have emerged from a season-long slump by winning six of their last eight, seven of 10 and 10 of 16. Justin Peters
was the hero Saturday on Long Island as he stopped 34 shots in his NHL debut and calmly led the Hurricanes to a 3-1 win over the Islanders.
"I was so happy for him," coach Paul Maurice said. "It's the one position where you have to go in and be good for the team to win. He didn't get lucky. He didn't get any breaks and had to fight for the puck. He's worked hard for that chance."
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal
has been held without a point in just three games since Dec. 26, amassing 14 goals and 14 assists over the 19 games since then. Staal now leads the team with 47 points. Jokinen, who is second with 44, has five goals and two assists during a six-game points streak, and nine goals and 10 assists over his last 15 games.
Florida forward Stephen Weiss
(lower body) and defenseman Bryan Allen
(knee) missed Saturday's game but are likely to return to the lineup Tuesday. Forward Nathan Horton won't return until after the Olympics due to a broken left tibia.
Ward is out indefinitely with a back injury, and Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said Monday he will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Forward Tuomo Ruutu
(upper body) could be activated from injured reserve Tuesday. Forwards Erik Cole (upper body), Scott Walker (shoulder) and Chad LaRose
(upper body) remain sidelined.
Vokoun has started 18 straight games for the Panthers since Scott Clemmensen
lost 2-1 to Boston on Dec. 27. … Zach Boychuk
, Carolina's first-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, has assists in consecutive games since being called up. He has three points in 13 NHL games over parts of two seasons.
Carolina returns home for its final three games prior to the Olympic break. If the Hurricanes can run the table, the next two weeks could be spent entertaining the realistic possibility of a chase at the playoffs over the final six weeks of the season.