Can the Carolina Hurricanes finally find a win (or two) within the Southeast Division? They'll have two chances this weekend against the Florida Panthers.
Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers
March 3, 2013 - 6:00 pm EST <---- note time
BB&T Center - Sunrise, Florida
Hurricanes Record: 10-8-1 (21 pts.)
Panthers Record: 6-9-5 (17 pts.)
The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers meet tonight in Raleigh, and as soon as the game is over, both teams board planes, head to the sunshine state, and do it all over again less than 24 hours later. This is the second and third of four games between the two teams this season. The Hurricanes lost the season opener in Sunrise on January 19th in disappointing fashion, allowing four goals in the first period on their way to an eventual 5-1 loss. The Hurricanes also lost five of six games against the Panthers last season.
When these two teams battle, home ice has been a distinct advantage, with the home team winning 14 out of the last 19 games. The Hurricanes are 27-6-4 against the Panthers since moving into PNC Arena, and are 6-2-0 in back-to-back game scenarios this season.
The weekend's games are crucial if the Hurricanes want to maintain a spot in the playoff hunt. Not only are the wins themselves important to maintain a competitive record, but after going 0-5-0 season to date the Hurricanes must begin putting games away against their division rivals in order to win the Southeast Division, which will likely be the only way to get an invitation to the big dance with the records being amassed in the other divisions.
For the Hurricanes the big news is that after dealing with a rash of injuries, the roster is now close to healthy again. Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent returned to the forward ranks, and Tim Gleason and Jamie McBain returned to the blue line, and it paid off as the Hurricanes were able to capitalize with fresh legs and won 4-1 in convincing fashion over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
The top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty continue their domination, tallying 3 goals and 8 points in Thursday's effort. They are currently ranked second in the NHL as a scoring line with 14 goals (source: leftwinglock.com). With two goals against the Penguins Thursday, Tlusty now has four multi-goal performances this season and has 15 points in 19 games.
With back-to-back games it is likely that Cam Ward and Dan Ellis will split goaltending responsibilities, but there has been no official word as to the start for either night. Ward is 13-10-2, with a 3.00 GAA in 28 career appearances against Florida, and Ellis is 4-1-2 with a 2.23 GAA in eight games.
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen remains day-to-day with a lower body injury.
With Thursday night's success, expect the Hurricanes lines to remain relatively intact:
Also, check out the Hurricanes February report, courtesy of Michael Smith. It's a really good recap given all the highs and lows of the past month.
Defenseman Brian Campbell scored against his former team in the waning moments of the third period to tie the game between the Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in Sunrise, but the Panthers weren't able to pick up the extra point as the Sabres won in a 4-3 shootout.
Forward Kris Versteeg, who has been sidelined with a chest injury, is traveling with the team to Raleigh and could be in the line-up this weekend. Scottie Upshall was previously out of the line-up with an ankle injury but should be back tonight. Defenseman Mike Weaver suffered an injury in Thursday's game and is out indefinitely, along with captain Ed Jovanovski.
Also not traveling to Raleigh is veteran Alex Kovalev, who has been a healthy scratch for 6 out of the last 20 games. Kovalev and the Panthers appear to be parting ways, as there have been hints that he will retire; "an announcement" is expected soon.
Forward Jonathan Huberdeau was named the NHL rookie of the month for February. Huberdeau leads all rookies with 8 goals, and had 6 goals and 3 assists in 13 games in February. Huberdeau is pointless in his last four games, but logged a goal and two assists against the Hurricanes in the season debut.
Tomas Fleischmann leads the Panthers in scoring with 15 points (5 goals, assists), followed by Brian Campbell with 6 goals and 8 assists, two of which came against the Hurricanes on January 19th.
The Florida goaltending situation has become a source of frustration. Last year, veteran netminders Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen were a model of consistency as they backstopped the Panthers into the playoffs. This year they rank last in the league in goals allowed per game. Theodore (who according to reports is likely to get the start tonight) is 4-6-3 with a 3.30 GAA for the season. Against the Hurricanes Theodore is 21-13-3 with a 2.52 GAA and five shutouts. Clemmensen may see a start as well and is 3-4-0 with a 2.78 GAA against the Canes.
If there are any updates from either team coming out of the pre-game skates, we'll provide an update. Brian will offer up three questions about our opponent later today, and we'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.