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Panthers Face Tall Task Against First-Ranked Carolina

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Florida Panthers
(CBSSports) – Although they’re tied for first place, the Carolina Hurricanes have yet to earn a point against any of the other four teams in the Southeast Division.
Now a little healthier, the Hurricanes have two chances to end that drought this weekend with a home-and-home series against the Florida Panthers starting Saturday night in Raleigh.
While 21 points would be no better than third place in any other division, that’s enough to have Carolina deadlocked with Winnipeg atop the Southeast.
The Hurricanes (10-8-1) have built that point total by going 10-3-1 against non-division teams but would love to fix their 0-5-0 mark versus Southeast opponents. While they’ve been outscored 21-7 in those five games, they have scored at least three goals in all but two of their other 14.
After getting shut out in Tuesday’s visit to division cellar dweller Washington, Carolina bounced back with a 4-1 home victory over Pittsburgh two days later. The top line of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin combined for three goals and five assists.
“I’m just enjoying my time and building the confidence and playing with two of the best players in the NHL,” said Tlusty, who has nine goals in the past 10 games after scoring twice Thursday. “What can you say? It’s enjoyable every single day, every single shift out there … and you just go out there and enjoy it. That’s what hockey is about, right?”
Jeff Skinner scored in his return from a concussion, and Carolina also got Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain and Tim Brent back from injuries.
“It was nice getting some healthy bodies back,” coach Kirk Muller said. “It gave us a chance to go four lines. It gave us a higher tempo and energy.”
With a more complete team, the Hurricanes enter this home-and-home set – which ends Sunday in Florida – looking to avenge a season-opening 5-1 road loss to the Panthers on Jan. 19.
Brian Campbell scored two of Florida’s four goals in the first period, and Jonathan Huberdeau, the league’s rookie of the month for February, had three points in his NHL debut.
Huberdeau, though, has gone pointless in the last four games and the Panthers (6-9-5) have lost three of them. They’ve dropped eight of 10 overall, with four defeats coming after regulation.
Campbell scored the tying goal with 1:26 left in the third period Thursday, but the Panthers lost 4-3 to Buffalo in a shootout.
“It’s frustrating obviously not getting the two points. We need points,” Campbell said. “We go into the biggest weekend of the season. It’s Carolina back-to-back, divisional games. We need to come out with hopefully a couple of wins.”
Florida have won six of seven over the Hurricanes.
Carolina’s Cam Ward was in net for four of those losses and was pulled after the first period in the first meeting this season. However, he’s 5-1-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average in his last seven home games against the Panthers.
Jose Theodore is 6-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA in his last seven games in this series, but he’s 0-2-2 with a 4.19 GAA in his past five starts.
(©2013 STATS LLC and Associated Press. All rights reserved. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.)
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