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Panthers look to put crimp in Canes' playoff hopes

by David Kalan
PANTHERS (26-29-7) at HURRICANES (29-25-9)


Last 10:
Florida 3-6-1; Carolina 3-4-3

Season Series:
The Hurricanes lead the season series 3-2 after taking the last meeting between these two teams, a 5-3 win on Jan. 7 at the BankAtlantic Center.

Big Story: One day after they were partners on their second trade in a span of five days, Carolina and Florida will face off in a game with two points on the line that could prove crucial to the currently eighth-seeded Hurricanes.

Team Scope:

Panthers: It would be hard to find a team that was more active ahead of Monday's trade deadline than the Panthers. In addition to the three moves it made yesterday, Florida made several trades in the days leading up to the annual failsafe point, including two that saw Cory Stillman and Bryan Allen wind up with the division-rival Hurricanes. In total the Panthers shipped out six players and two draft picks in the past week, including solid players like Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe and Chris Higgins. But the moves were not without logic. GM Dale Tallon, who built the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, clearly appears to be building for the future, acquiring a bounty that included eight players and four picks.

While this might look like a white flag for the 2010-11 season to some, key pieces like David Booth, Shawn Matthias, Stephen Weiss and goaltender Tomas Vokoun are still in Florida, and the Panthers sit just eight points back of the eighth-seeded Canes. Still, a run at the postseason would require a pretty drastic turnaround. The Panthers have won just two of their last seven games, and have just four regulation wins since Jan. 1.

While Carolina has been sitting in the final playoff spot for several weeks, the Canes' place in the postseason is far from assured. The team has been anxiously holding off hot streaks from Buffalo and Toronto, which are just two and four points behind, respectively, as well as Atlanta, which is also just four points off the pace. For that predicament the Hurricanes can only blame themselves after a month of February in which they won just four of 13 games.

Still, the trade deadline may have provided the Canes with an infusion of fresh blood to stabilize the ship before they fall from the top eight. Stillman scored in his second game with Carolina, and Allen should help fortify the Hurricanes' blue line, but the Canes likely need to improve in all areas to turn things around and hold off the likes of the Sabres and Maple Leafs.

Who's Hot: Marty Reasoner has goals in two straight games for the Panthers. … Jussi Jokinen has lit up the score sheet for Carolina, tallying 5 points in the last three games.

Injury Report:
The Hurricanes could be without their captain again as Eric Staal remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … The Panthers, meanwhile, have been absolutely decimated by injuries in the last month, as Matthias (broken ankle), Evgeny Dadonov (broken finger), Ryan Carter (back), Jack Skille (ankle sprain) and Rostislav Olesz (knee) have all landed on IR.

Stat Pack:
Looking for an explanation as to why the Canes sought help on the back end at the deadline? Despite having a Conn Smythe winner in net in Cam Ward, the Hurricanes have given up 188 goals this season, sixth-most in the League.

Puck Drop:
While the Panthers certainly aren't out of the race, it seems clear Tallon's house clearing this week is designed to build the franchise for next season, but they could still play the role of spoiler in the season's final six weeks. For Carolina however, its fortunes could rise and fall any given day, and Tuesday night's game against the Panthers is no different.

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