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Hurricanes seek weekend sweep of Panthers

by John Kreiser

HURRICANES (11-8-1) at PANTHERS (6-10-5)

TV: FS-Carolinas; FS-Florida

Last 10: Carolina 6-4-0; Florida 2-4-4

Season series: It's the third meeting of the season and the second in many nights. Florida won 5-1 on opening night; the Hurricanes routed the Panthers 6-2 in Raleigh on Saturday.

Big story: The Hurricanes will go for a weekend sweep against the Panthers, who've dropped to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: The Carolina team that limped home after being walloped on opening night bears little resemblance to the one that returns to Sunrise for Sunday's game. After that stumbling start, the Hurricanes have roared to the top of the Southeast Division standings and look like a team starting to hit its stride. Carolina whipped Pittsburgh 4-1 before beating the Panthers soundly.

The Hurricanes are expecting a tougher test this time.

"We have them again in their barn, and it's not going to be as easy as it was tonight," said forward Jiri Tlusty, whose scoring surge has been a key to his team's improved play. "But we made a pretty good statement tonight that we can play 60 minutes of hockey pretty hard and it's tough to play against us."

Panthers: Florida got a jolt just 2:22 into Saturday's game when goaltender Jose Theodore had to leave with a right leg injury after making a save. Replacement Scott Clemmensen was tagged for three quick goals, and the Panthers never recovered. Florida also lost defenseman Dmitri Kulikov in the second period with an apparent wrist injury.

Coach Kevin Dineen wasn't accepting injuries as an excuse.

"You can't blame it on injuries," Dineen said. "To me that's the ultimate cop-out.

"We were not prepared to play this game. It was a big divisional game against our first-place team, and it looked like from the drop of the puck that we weren't prepared."

Who's hot: Tlusty has three goals in his past two games and 10 in 11 contests. Eric Staal, usually a slow starter, has 24 points in 20 games and five in Carolina's wins against the Penguins and Panthers. … Florida's Tomas Fleischmann has five points in the Panthers' past four games.

Injury report: Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who returned Saturday after missing seven games with a lower-body injury, left the game after the first period with the same ailment. Coach Kirk Muller didn't offer an update after the game. … In addition to losing Theodore and Kulikov on Saturday, forward Scottie Upshall left in the first period with a lower-body injury. The Panthers were already missing forward Kris Versteeg (chest) and defenseman Michael Caruso (wrist), Mike Weaver (lower body) and Ed Jovanovski (lower body)

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