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Panthers-Hurricanes Preview @NHL
Panthers-Hurricanes Preview

GAME: Florida Panthers (6-6-2) at Carolina Hurricanes (9-2-1).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

Eric Staal's stock continues to rise at the right time for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 21-year-old center looks to extend the Hurricanes' win streak to seven as they take on the road-weary Florida Panthers.

Staal regained sole possession of the NHL scoring lead Thursday with two goals and an assist in Carolina's 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Staal, who has four consecutive multipoint games and five three-point games, has at least one point in 11 of Carolina's 12 contests.

"I'm not thinking too much now," said Staal, who has 25 points after totaling 31 in 81 games as a rookie in 2003-04. "That's the key. Don't think, just play. That's what my linemates are telling me, anyway."

Erik Cole scored the game-winner with 1:34 left in the third period as the Hurricanes improved to 6-0 at home and extended their best start in franchise history.

Second-year coach Peter Laviolette knows the importance of getting out of the gate early, especially at home. The Hurricanes finished only 13-18-8-2 there in 2003-04.

"We're trying to hold on to that zero as long as we can," Laviolette said of the loss column. "We've got to fight for that."

Carolina has earned at least one point in nine straight games (8-0-1) since a 3-2 defeat to the New York Islanders on Oct. 8.

Florida, concluding a six-game road trip in which its won only once, fell 4-1 Thursday to the Boston Bruins. Joel Kwiatkowski had the lone goal for the Panthers, who are winless in their last four games (0-2-2).

The Panthers have been on the road since Oct. 20 due to Hurricane Wilma. The league postponed two of their scheduled home games, and Florida's Nov. 9 matchup against the New York Rangers will be the first game at the BankAtlantic Center in nearly three weeks.

Roberto Luongo had 29 saves against the Bruins, but the goaltender put his team behind early after his turnover directly led to a goal.

"In the first period, I made a mistake on their first goal and it cost us," Luongo said. "Under the new rules, guys are allowed to stand in the crease and we have to defend that."

Luongo began the season with consecutive shutouts but has allowed three or more goals in seven of his last 11 starts.

STANDINGS (through Nov. 4): Panthers - 14 points, 3rd place, 5 PB, Southeast Division. Hurricanes - 19 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Nathan Horton, 7 goals; Olli Jokinen, 9 assists and 12 points; Branislav Mezei, 37 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 11 goals, 14 assists and 25 points; Cole, 24 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 4): Panthers - Power play: 14.2 percent (13 for 91), 25th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (74 for 93), 21st in NHL. Hurricanes - Power play: 22.5 percent (18 for 80), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.6 percent (58 for 71), 17th in NHL.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (6-5-2, 2 SO, 2.81 GAA); Jamie McLennan (0-1-0, 1.61). Hurricanes - Cam Ward (5-1-1, 3.06); Martin Gerber (4-1-0, 2.58).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 2-2-2.

LAST MEETING: April 4, 2004; 6-6. At Sunrise, Fla., Donald Audette scored twice and added two assists as the Panthers rallied from a four-goal first-period deficit.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 2-5-2 on the road; Hurricanes - 6-0-0 at home.

Associated Press

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