Carolina Hurricanes Visit Florida Panthers: Game 68 Preview

February 25, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg (32) carries the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC center. The Panthers defeated the Hurricanes 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

Florida welcomes the Carolina Hurricanes to Sunrise tonight in a meeting where worst vs. first doesn't really mean very much.

The Panthers host the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise. This is the fourth meeting of six between the divisional rivals this season. Floirda won all three prior matches, 3-1 in November, 3-2 in overtime in December, and 3-2 in a shootout in February. They just finished a two game Pennsylvania roadtrip, going 0-1-1 by losing 5-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and 2-1 in the shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

The Panthers will be starting a very important four game homestand. They go on to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, the Boston Bruins on Thursday and the Buffalo Sabres next Saturday. The Hurricanes will be playing tonight in the fourth game of a five game roadtrip. They beat the Washington Capitals, 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday, lost to the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday, and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2 last night. Florida is 16-9-8 at home, while the Hurricanes carry a 9-14-9 road record into South Florida.

The last meeting between the two happened on February 25th. The Panthers trailed 2-0 with just six minutes remaining in regulation before Tomas Fleischmann (20) and new acquisition Wojtek Wolski (1) scored to send the game to an extra frame. Mikael Samuelsson and Stephen Weiss lit the lamp for the victory in the shootout. Jose Theodore earned the victory by stopping 26 of 28 Carolina shots. Carolina goaltender Justin Peters took the loss despite stopping 42 of 44 shots. Justin Faulk (7) and Jussi Jokinen (9) scored the Hurricanes goals. Kevin Dineen spoke afterwards about how the Panthers hung in after trailing for most of the game,

"We were really aggressive in a lot of aspects of the game," said Florida coach Kevin Dineen. "I made up a word called 'stickwithitness.' It doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's what we did tonight. We kept pushing."


Florida Panthers vs Carolina Hurricanes shootout HD 2/25/12 (via HEATPOSTERIZED)

Florida lost in the shootout, 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their last game action this past Friday. Despite stopping 33-of-34 shots for the Panthers, goaltender Jose Theodore took the loss. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 28-of-29 shots before going perfect in the shootout for the win. Tomas Fleischmann (21) tallied the lone goal for Florida, breaking a 94-minute scoreless streak for the Panthers. Steve Sullivan (14) provided the equalizer with a backhand early in the third period. James Neal and Evgeni Malkin both scored in the shootout. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma spoke about how for some teams, the playoffs are now,

"Teams like Florida are playing playoff-like games, tight checking, not much out there," coach Dan Bylsma said. "But part of that (success) is the way we play (in the third period) and take over games."

Panthers @ Penguins 03/09/12 (via NHLVideo)

Carolina beat the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, 4-2 in Florida. Jaroslav Spacek (5) opened the scoring for the Canes with a power play goal in the second. Jeff Skinner (18, 19), scored twice, including the game winner in the third. Chad LaRose (14) added an empty netter to cap the scoring. Ryan Malone (13) and Nate Thompson (8) scored for the Bolts. Cam Ward stopped 36-of-38 shots for the Carolina victory, while rookie Dustin Tokarski lost by allowing three goals on 25 shots. Tokarski blamed himself afterwards,

"The last goal went over my shoulder," Tokarski said. "I don't know if I was expecting it or not, but obviously I wasn't there. I didn't hug the post good enough. I've got to make the save for the guys there. If I'm tight to the post or challenge him a bit more, maybe it just hits me. So, good shot but in a tight game like that, you need the goalie to come up big."

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Standings:

Florida Panthers: 31-23-13, 75 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 16th NHL, on pace for 92 points. Last five: L-L-W-L-O. Playoff odds: 79.3%

Carolina Hurricanes: 26-27-15, 67 points, fifth Southeast Division, 13th Eastern Conference, 26th NHL, on pace for 81 points. Last five: L-O-W-O-W. Playoff odds: 2.8%

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