With just four games left in the regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes certainly aren't playing like a team striving to make the playoffs.
The Hurricanes need to snap their three-game losing streak when they visit the Florida Panthers on Sunday to remain in serious postseason contention.
The skid has dropped the defending Stanley Cup champions into a tie with the New York Islanders for 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 84 points. They trail Montreal, which is idle Sunday, by four points for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Hurricanes (38-32-8) are trying to avoid becoming the first team since the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils to miss the playoffs the year after winning the Stanley Cup.
"I thought the effort was there, but we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times and it cost us," coach Peter Laviolette told the team's official Web site after Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. "We've got to win hockey games. That's the bottom line. We'll start with one and we'll move on. They are all big. Does it get bigger? Tonight was a big game."
The Hurricanes held a one-goal lead twice during the game following goals by Erik Cole and Mike Commodore, but goaltender Cam Ward gave up two third-period goals. Carolina has been outscored 15-4 during the losing streak.
"I don't think we played well enough, I don't think we played nearly well enough," defenseman David Tanabe told the team's Web site. "At this time of year, the mistakes we made - we lost tonight for a reason. When it's that close of a game you can't make the mistakes that we made. We just didn't play well enough - breakdowns, breakdowns."
The Hurricanes close out their road schedule on Tuesday at Tampa Bay before returning home to face Atlanta and Florida (34-30-14) for the final two games of the season.
Carolina is 5-1-0 against the Panthers this season, including a 3-1 home victory in the last meeting on March 13. The Hurricanes' only loss against Florida was a 6-3 defeat on Oct. 11 in Sunrise, where the Panthers are 23-12-5.
Florida, which is playing its regular-season home finale Sunday, has stayed mathematically alive for the postseason by winning three straight games, including a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday. Martin Gelinas scored two goals, including the game-winner 2:01 into the extra period.
"The first goal hit my blade, but the second one kind of hit off my skate and went in," the left wing said. "It was a lucky bounce, but we'll take it. That's why you stand in front of the goalie, so one of your teammates can get a good shot and (you) get a tip in."
Gelinas now has 299 goals in his career and 13 this season, although Friday's two were his first since Feb. 24. He had one goal in the first meeting between these teams on Oct. 11, but has been held off the scoresheet in five games versus Carolina since then.
With 82 points, the Panthers 82 are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Florida hasn't made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season.