Hurricanes vs. Panthers: Game Day Preview

Kirk Muller coached his first NHL game against the Florida Panthers on November 29, 2011 (author's photo).

The Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers continue their divisional rivalry tonight when the two teams square off for the third time this season at the RBC Center at 7:00 pm. The Panthers won 3-1 in Raleigh on November 29, 2011 (in Kirk Muller's first game as Hurricanes head coach), then also defeated the Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime in Sunrise on December 18, 2011.

The Panthers ( 27-20-12, 66 pts.) had been leading the Southeast Division until a shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild Thursday night, combined with a regulation win by the Winnipeg Jets over the Lightning, propelled the Jets into the division lead. While the Panthers currently still occupy the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they regret having gone 0-3-1 in this recent four-game home stand.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes (23-26-12, 58 pts.) have been the hottest team in the Southeast Division over the last six weeks, posting an impressive 9-3-5 record since January 12th and picking up points in 12 of their last 14 games. Unfortunately, this run has not been enough to move the Canes out of the Eastern Conference basement. With only a glimmer of a playoff hope left, the four remaining head-to-head match-ups against the Panthers will be critical to the playoff push.

Game notes follow.

Hurricanes Notes and News

Tonight is Military Appreciation Night at the RBC Center. Military equipment will be on display on the front lawn, and members of active, reserve, and retired military service will be honored throughout the night. If you're in the arena, you'll see injured Army veteran Pat McIlvain as the honorary Starter of the Game in what is certain to be a special moment. Check out his story on WRAL.

Captain Eric Staal has 11 goals and 30 points in his past 23 games, including six goals and 12 points in his past seven contests.

Forward Jiri Tlusty has points in nine straight games. Tlusty did not skate this morning but will be in the lineup tonight. Chad LaRose practiced with the team but is not expected to play, he is "a few days out" per Michael Smith on twitter this morning. Justin Peters will get the start in goal tonight, his third in a row.

Lines:

Injuries: Joni Pitkenan (concussion/knee, IR), Brian Boucher (lower body, IR), Chad LaRose (upper body), Tuomo Ruutu (upper body), Cam Ward (lower body)

Panthers Notes and News

Yesterday the Panthers acquired center Jerred Smithson from the Predators for a 2012 sixth round draft pick.

Center Stephen Weiss played in his 614th game with the Panthers on Thursday night, a franchise record. Weiss has four points in his past six games. Sean Bergenheim scored against the Wild, and he has nine goals in the past 15 games.

Former Hurricane/Checker Jon Matsumoto may face his former franchise tonight. Matsumoto was traded by the Hurricanes to the Panthers in a four-player trade on January 18th, and was recalled by the Panthers on Thursday. It is uncertain at this time whether Matsumoto will play or where he may be slotted after the Smithson acquisition.

Jose Theodore is expected to get the start in net.

Lines:

Injuries: Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Jason Harrison (lower body), Scottie Upshall (sports hernia), Marco Sturm (knee), Marcel Goc (lower body), John Madden (foot), Matt Bradley (concussion).

For additional Panthers information, check out SB Nation affiliate Litter Box Cats.

The game will be radio broadcast on WCMC 99.9 The Fan, but there is no local TV coverage. Center Ice subscribers will be able to see the Florida broadcast which will be televised. The game starts at 7:00 pm and we'll have the game thread ready to go at 6:30 pm with live reports. See you there.

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