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Playoffs in February - Panthers at Canes Preview

The Florida Panthers invade the RBC to take on the Hurricanes tonight in a game with huge playoff implications. The "kitties" are one point ahead of the Canes and also have a game in hand. Carolina can ill afford to drop any further behind them in the standings.

As you can see, things can't get much closer. There is little room for error. The Canes are currently in 9h place, the place you don't want to be and the place where they finished last season.

The good news is that a couple of the teams who are currently ahead of the Canes, Montreal and the New York Rangers, have been reeling. Buffalo lost their best player to injury, Thomas Vanek. The 5th through 8th spots in the conference are wide open. The bad news is that the Panthers are stealing points late in games. Toronto gave away two late game leads to them recently and Florida picked up some unlikely points. But the Cats won't be facing Toronto tonight.

The Hurricanes are riding a two game winning streak and have won four of their last five, as well as six of their last eight. The Panthers have won three of their last four, including two OT wins against the Leafs. The teams are 2-2 facing each other this season as each team has held serve on their home ice. (One Carolina win was in OT, so technically the Panthers have a 2-1-1 record against the Canes).

The last time Florida won at the RBC was the season's finale last year, a game which kept the Canes out of the playoffs. But even counting that game, the Canes have beaten the Panthers 17 out of the last 18 times at Raleigh.

Matt Cullen is currently the hottest Hurricane and has points in five consecutive games. Ray Whitney has a four game point streak and Sergei Samsonov has scored in two straight.

David Booth is the guy to watch on Florida, but of course Cory Stillman, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Richard Zednick are all dangerous. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has 12 goals and 16 assists and always plays well against Carolina. (Hasn't Martin traded him yet?)

Rod Brind'Amour has returned and will see time on the fourth line with Brandon Sutter and Ryan Bayda. Sutter has limited experience at wing, but he did play there a bit last year in Albany.

While Dennis Seidenberg was planning on coming back, he had a setback yesterday and will miss this game. Bryan Rodney will be paired with Niclas Wallin while Frank Kaberle is the healthy scratch.

The lines will look like this:

  • Staal, Samsonov, Ruutu
  • Cullen, Whitney, Williams
  • Jokinen, Eaves, LaRose
  • Brind'Amour, Bayda, Sutter
  • Corvo, Gleason
  • Pitkanen, Babchuk
  • Rodney, Wallin

Cam Ward will be in net for the home team and will probably face Tomas Vokoun.

2008 - Cam Ward 41 2397 21 16 3 7 101 2.53 1150 1049 .912 3

2008 - Tomas Vokoun 38 2055 16 15 3 6 90 2.63 1108 1018 .919 3

Tonight is Teacher Appreciation Night, and the Hurricanes will be recognizing the outstanding efforts of local educators with giveaways all game long. Will the teachers gave the Canes a grade of A after the game tonight, or will the Canes drop further in the standings?

Game time is at 7 and the contest will be broadcast by FS Carolinas. If you can't make it to the game, we will have another "Live Game Thread" here at Canes Country and I'll be piping in from time to time from the press box.

If you have not checked it out yet, "Whale4ever" runs a cool Panthers site over at Litter Box Cats. Just when you thought you had seen everything, you come across a Whalers turned Panthers fan, with a grudge and a blog. Good thing he has a sense of humor.