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Over the next 18 days, the Carolina Hurricanes will have the opportunity to put more distance between themselves and the rest of the Southeast Division.

Carolina kicks off a stretch of nine straight games against division opponents on Wednesday night when they visit the Florida Panthers in the start of a home-and-home series.

The Hurricanes (7-2-3) already own a six-point lead over second-place Tampa Bay in the Southeast. After playing host to the Panthers (4-7-0) on Saturday, Carolina will then meet them twice more during this stretch which includes two games each against Atlanta and Tampa Bay and one versus Washington. The Hurricanes won't face another team outside their division until they welcome Philadelphia on Nov. 21.

The Panthers, meanwhile, trail the Hurricanes by nine points and will play 10 of their next 11 against Southeast teams.

"We need to work on different areas (of our game)," Florida coach Jacques Martin told the Panthers' official Web site. "You know, with November coming and a lot of key games in our division, and so many games, we want to take advantage to work on certain parts of our game."

Starting their stretch of division games against the Hurricanes won't be an easy task for the Panthers, as they have lost seven straight to Carolina.

"Carolina has been playing real good. We need to win these games and we need to win these points," said the Panthers' Nathan Horton.

The Hurricanes are coming off Saturday's 8-3 win over the New York Islanders. That came just one night after they lost 7-4 at home to Montreal.

"We had to play our game and not worry about the outcome of a game that's already past us," said Rod Brind'Amour, who posted his third career hat trick. "We had good flow, and obviously, we capitalized on our chances."

Brind'Amour has six goals and 10 assists during a nine-game point streak this season. He's scored in seven straight games against the Panthers, tallying four goals and eight assists.

Ray Whitney and Justin Williams each scored twice for the Hurricanes on Saturday and backup goalie John Grahame made 28 saves to earn his first win of the season. Erik Cole had three assists in his first game after missing four with a foot injury.

Carolina's Cam Ward was 2-0-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average in three starts last season against Florida. Grahame was 4-1-0 with a 2.92 GAA in five starts versus the Panthers.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have dropped four of five, including Saturday's 4-3 road loss to Nashville. Olli Jokinen, who leads the team with six goals and 10 points, scored twice, but Florida allowed the game-winner with 13 seconds left in regulation.

"I don't what the reason is for why this is happening," said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who made 29 saves. "We basically give away games night after night. There was no way their guy should have entered our zone that late in the game. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot at the worst possible times."

Vokoun, acquired in the offseason from the Predators, has allowed four goals while losing each of his last two starts. He's 4-1-1 with a tie and a 2.51 GAA in seven career starts against the Hurricanes.

Jokinen has recorded at least two points in each of his last seven home games versus Carolina, totaling seven goals and 10 assists. The Panthers haven't lost in regulation in that span, but are just 3-0-4.

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