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Tonight the Carolina Hurricanes begin a long streak of games against their Southeast Division brethren and are in Florida to begin a home and home series with the Panthers. These head to head divisional matchups are very important in the grand scheme of things and can really help the teams behind in the standings to make up ground quickly. On the other side of the coin, if the division leading Canes can keep up their recent outstanding play, they could very well put such a large distance between themselves and the rest of the division that they could be extremely difficult to overtake during the rest of the year. In year's past, Carolina has fared pretty well in inter-divisional play. According to NHL.com, in 2005-06 their division record was 18-11-3 and last year, they went 19-11-2. The team that they did the best against? The Florida Panthers. Their record against the Panthers for the past 2 years is an amazing 13-3 and they have won 7 straight. What's even more amazing is that many of those wins were close calls and overtime victories. The typical games against Florida certainly are not easy ones.

The Panthers seemed like a snake-bitten team last year and would always seem to find some way to lose against the Canes. Unfortunately for Florida, they don't just have those "bad luck" issues against the Canes. For whatever reason, they have a history of falling apart late in close games. In 2005-06 they lost 10 games in the last minute of regulation and last year wasn't much different. The ugly trend is continuing again this year and it's troubling the entire organization. In their most recent game against Nashville, the Preds scored the winning goal with just 12 seconds left. According to this article in the Palm Beach Post, the team has got a reputation for folding when the pressure is on. The acquisition of goalie Tomas Vokoun was supposed to bolster the defense and prevent these kind of late game breakdowns, but so far he hasn't made much of a difference. The team has lost 4 out it's past 5 games. Vokoun is quick to blame others though, for the losses. "We do it time after time," Vokoun said. "One night it's this guy. The next it's somebody else. That's why we're losing. It's just shooting ourselves in the foot. There's no reason for it." Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to accept some of the blame yourself, Tomas?

The Hurricanes are blowing into town on a good streak, having earned points in 8 out their past 9 games. They are tied for league's lead in scoring with 47 goals for. Rod Brind'Amour leads the team with 18 points and Justin Williams and Eric Staal are both close behind with 16 and 15 points respectively. The team is still banged up though as Andrew Ladd and Scott Walker are both unavailable and not expected back for at least another week. I'm not sure if Nic Wallin is ready to play again or not, he's listed as questionable. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 start time and will be on FSN as well as broadcast in HD. Which Florida team will the Canes face tonight, the one that usually has a breakdown at the end of the game, or a new and improved version? Time will tell. I'll have an update after lunch today.

Happy Halloween!

Tom Petty