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Hurricanes-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (43-15-5) at Florida Panthers (25-29-9).

TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

Coming off a stellar effort in his first game after signing a contract extension, Olli Jokinen will try to lead the Florida Panthers to another upset of the league's best team.

Jokinen and the Panthers will try for a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes when the teams wrap up a rare two-game set the BankAtlantic Center.

Jokinen, the Panthers' best offensive player, was the subject of many trade rumors before Thursday's deadline. Though a record 25 deals involving 40 players were made, Florida signed him to a four-year, $21 million extension.

He paid immediate dividends Friday, scoring twice in Florida's 5-3 win over Carolina.

"It's been pretty tough the past two weeks, with everyone asking questions about what's going to happen and not knowing about the future," Jokinen said. "Now it's time to focus."

Chris Gratton, who was signed to a two-year extension Thursday, also scored for the Panthers, who earned their first win in six tries over Carolina this season.

But the Panthers' hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season are fading. Florida is in 13th place in East, 10 points behind eighth-place Montreal with 19 games remaining.

Carolina, which holds a two-point lead over Detroit for the league's best record, got two assists from leading scorer Eric Staal.

Staal has scored in all six games against the Panthers this season, recording four goals and five assists.

Goaltender Martin Gerber faced 21 shots in the first period, stopping 19 of them.

"We were lousy tonight," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "It could have been our worst period of the year. The entire 20 minutes was unacceptable."

Gerber finished with 34 saves en route to his first loss of the season against the Panthers, whom he had shut out twice while recording wins in the first five games between the teams.

Right wing Mark Recchi also made his Carolina debut after being acquired from Pittsburgh just before the trade deadline.

"I was excited to get out there," Recchi said, "although obviously, the results aren't what you would like for a first game."

Carolina's next victory will set a new franchise record for most wins in a season. The 1986-87 Hartford Whalers also had 43 wins, but were eliminated in the Adams Division semifinal.

STANDINGS: Hurricanes - 91 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Panthers - 59 points, 4th place, 32 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Staal, 39 goals and 84 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 45 assists; Mike Commodore, 95 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 31 goals, 38 assists and 69 points; Gratton, 92 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 9): Hurricanes - Power play: 18.8 percent (78 for 415), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (281 for 341), 16th. Panthers - Power play: 15.0 percent (48 for 319), 27th. Penalty killing: 82.7 percent (325 for 393), 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Gerber (30-10-3, 3 SO, 2.68 GAA); Cam Ward (13-5-2, 0, 3.49). Panthers - Roberto Luongo (25-25-9, 4, 2.94); Jamie McLennan (0-4-0, 0, 3.09).

SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 5-1.

LAST MEETING: Friday; Panthers, 5-3. At Sunrise, Fla., Gratton, Martin Gelinas and Jozef Stumpel also scored for the Panthers. Nicklas Wallin, Justin Williams and Rod Brind'Amour tallied for the Hurricanes.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 17-10-4 on the road; Panthers - 17-8-4 at home.

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