Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers: Game Day Preview

Things turned chippy as the game ended between the Hurricanes and Panthers on March 21st at PNC Arena (author's photo).

The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers meet tonight at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise as the NHL regular season draws to a close.

Just two nights ago, the Panthers (37-26-18, 92 pts.) clinched their first playoff berth in 12 years. They now have their sights set on the Southeast Division title, which would their first in franchise history. Picking up at least a point in tonight's game will earn the title. A regulation loss and a win by the Washington Capitals drops the Panthers to the #8 seed.

As for the Hurricanes (33-32-16, 82 pts.), well, this is it. Eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, after tonight's game the Canes head home to Raleigh to clear out their lockers and say goodbye to the 2011-12 season.

More on tonight's match-up, and a last chance for fans to say farewell to the season, after the jump.

Hurricanes vs. Panthers Game Notes

The Panthers won the first four meetings of the season, two at home and two in Raleigh. The Hurricanes won the most recent game, just 17 days ago at PNC Arena. Captain Eric Staal scored early and late, and in his first game back from a long-term injury, defenseman Joni Pitkanen added a goal in the 3-1 win. Things turned chippy at the end of the game and the final buzzer sounded with both benches emptied for an exchange of pleasantries at center ice. Several Panthers players taunted the Canes with golf swings, an image that is likely still fresh in the mind of a team that would like to end its season on a positive note and perhaps bump its division rivals down in the final standings.

The big story for the Hurricanes is the arrival of an unexpected addition to the roster. Two nights ago, forward Jeremy Welsh's Union College Dutchmen lost to Ferris State in the Frozen Four tournament in Tampa. Later that same evening, the Hurricanes signed Welsh to an NHL contract, and he'll be making his NHL debut in tonight's game. Welsh will be wearing number 23.

Also expected to return to the Hurricanes lineup is forward Andreas Nodl, after missing eight games with concussion symptoms. If Nodl and Welsh are in the lineup, the Hurricanes will need to scratch one forward and one defenseman, since with Nodl's return there are no current injuries in the Hurricanes lineup.

Brian Boucher will be in goal for the Canes.

The Hurricanes held a full practice at Raleigh Center Ice on Friday before catching the flight to Florida (I attended, here are a few photos). Kirk Muller spoke to the media afterwards (audio).

For the Panthers, forward Tomas Fleischmann remains on a hot streak, with five points in the last five games to feed a career year with 27 goals and 61 points.

The Panthers are not expected to make any line up changes. This is how they lined up against the Capitals.

For additional Panthers news and game information, tune in to SB Nation affiliate Litter Box Cats.

Tonight's game will be broadcast on the normal Hurricanes channels, Fox Sports Carolinas in HDTV, and radio on WCMC 99.9 The Fan. Game time is 7:30 pm, and we'll have the game thread ready to go at 7:00. See you there.

Airport Alert

As is tradition, some loyal Canes fans plan to meet the team plane tonight when it arrives at RDU, probably around midnight. If you are so inclined, the Canes will be arriving on Air Canada flight 7034 from Ft. Lauderdale. The flight lands at General Aviation. Fans will be allowed to park in Park and Ride Lot #2 at RDU, and stand in the grassy area between the parking lot and General Aviation to watch the players as they leave. Here is a map of RDU parking and directions. If you head out, please remember to be a good citizen and keep the alcohol away from the airport, pick up after yourself, and don't stand in the roadway. I'll try to post any time-sensitive updates in the game thread or on twitter, so check in if you're planning to head out.



Other News

More accolades for the Captain. In addition to scoring Thursday's shootout game winner, Captain Eric Staal received multiple honors this week. He was voted by his teammates as the recipient of the Chiasson award, and he was nominated as the Hurricanes representative for the King Clancy trophy.

About Jeremy Welsh: No doubt it's been a whirlwind for the 23-year old forward who wrapped up a Frozen Four loss with an NHL contract and will play in his first NHL game tonight.

Is Brian Dumoulin next? Brian Dumoulin will represent Boston College against Ferris State today in the NCAA Championship. Dumoulin was interviewed yesterday regarding the game (video on YouTube). The Maine Sports Network is breaking the news that Dumoulin has agreed to sign with the Hurricanes after the Frozen Four tournament wraps up, read more about it here:

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