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Southeast clash pits Panthers against Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter /
HURRICANES (12-12-4) at PANTHERS (13-15-0)


Last 10:
Carolina 3-3-4; Florida 4-6-0

Season series: Third of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals. They split a home-and-home last month, with Stephen Weiss scoring twice and adding an assist in a 7-4 Florida win on Nov. 5 and Eric Staal notching a pair of goals as Carolina responded with a 3-2 victory the following night.

Big story: With the Hurricanes down to the final two stops on a five-game road trip, goalie Cam Ward has stood front and center in helping the team earn three out of a possible four points against the Stars and Blues despite a lack of goal-scoring. Ward stopped 66 of 68 shots during regulation and overtime and five of six shootout attempts in a 2-1 loss to the Stars and a 2-1 win over the Blues.

"I'm seeing the puck really well," said Ward, whose .925 save percentage ranks sixth in the NHL. "I feel like I'm probably as flexible as I've been in a long time, and I think that it's helped me in the net. I'm just having some fun out there."

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: While the penalty-shot tiebreaker didn't swing Carolina's way in Dallas last Friday, the Hurricanes got a better result in St. Louis the following night. After Brent Sutter and Alex Pietrangelo traded goals 3:13 apart in the third period, the shootout came down to Jussi Jokinen, who hadn't scored in five attempts this season despite being one of the League's best since the competition was instituted to break ties prior to the 2005-06 season. Jokinen solved Jaroslav Halak and Ward was perfect at the other end as the Hurricanes secured the second point.

"I'd been struggling bad this year," Jokinen said. "I know I can score in shootouts. I'm just glad the coach kept his confidence in me."

Panthers: A three-game winning streak for Florida came to an end Saturday with a 3-0 loss at the hands of Nashville and rookie goaltender Anders Lindback, who has done a stellar job filling in with starter Pekka Rinne on the shelf. Tomas Vokoun, coming off a shutout of his own against Washington, allowed first-period goals to defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. The Panthers' offense came up empty and Joel Ward sealed things with an empty-netter in the third.

"We weren't ready for their pressure," Weiss said. "We were just smacking pucks around and running around in our own zone, and we consequently gave up two goals."

Who's hot:
Jokinen assisted on Sutter's goal in addition to netting the shootout winner for the Hurricanes against the Blues. … Michael Frolik had 2 goals and 1 assist during a three-game points streak that was snapped when the Panthers were blanked by the Predators.

Injury report: Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Florida will get defenseman Bryan Allen back from a broken foot and forward Chris Higgins returns following a staph infection. Forwards Byron Bitz (sports hernia), Mark Cullen (Achilles), Rostislav Olesz (broken finger), Cory Stillman (back spasms), and Radek Dvorak (shoulder) remain on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Jokinen had converted on 26 of 50 shootout attempts coming into this season, a 52-percent success rate. … The Panthers have 54 games remaining this season and only one outside the Eastern time zone -- a March 23 matchup against the Blackhawks in Chicago.

Puck drop:
Florida coach Peter DeBoer is happy to get reinforcements back for this critical game against Carolina. It's a battle between teams trying to catch up to the pack in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"I would expect they'd come in with a shot of energy for our guys," DeBoer told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "It's a four-point game. It's a team we have to climb above to get in the playoffs."

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