Panthers try to regroup vs. last-place Carolina

March 11, 2012

Clinging to a slim lead in the Southeast Division, the Florida Panthers hope a visit from the Carolina Hurricanes will help end their latest rough stretch.

The Panthers look to avoid a third consecutive loss by winning their fourth straight over the last-place Hurricanes on Sunday.

Florida (31-23-13) ended February on a three-game winning streak, but has lost four of five in March. That slump has trimmed the Panthers' lead to one point over Washington and three over Winnipeg in the crowded but mediocre Southeast.

The division lead gives the Panthers the third seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Capitals cling to the eighth and final playoff spot.

"The outcome is important at this time of the year, but it's a process," coach Kevin Dineen told the Panthers' official website. "At the end of the day, it's how you play."

Florida's play has not been very good this month, being outscored 19-6 including two shutout losses in the last five games. Tomas Fleischmann scored his 21st goal of the season Friday, but the Panthers could not hold a 1-0 third-period lead and fell 2-1 in a shootout at Pittsburgh.

"It's disappointing not coming out with two points, that would have been nice," said Dineen, whose team tallied only Fleischmann's goal during a brief road swing to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. "We are looking for more consistency in our effort game to game."

Dineen also would like to see more production on the power play. Florida has gone 1 for 16 with the man advantage over the last five contests after going 3 for 9 in consecutive victories over Montreal and Toronto.

The Panthers have won all three games against the Hurricanes (26-27-15) this season, including the last two by 3-2 scores in overtime and a shootout. Fleischmann, who snapped a six-game goal drought Friday, has two versus Carolina in 2011-12.

Teammate Jose Theodore has been in net for all three wins over the Hurricanes, posting a 1.59 goals-against average.

The Panthers have won two of three at home following a four-game skid at the BankAtlantic Center. They are 8-2-2 against the Hurricanes at home since Dec. 20, 2007.

Carolina has earned at least a point (2-0-2) in four straight games since a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on March 1, and is now looking to build on Saturday's 4-2 victory at Tampa Bay in which Jeff Skinner scored twice and Cam Ward made 36 saves for his 199th NHL win.

"We're putting points together," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "We're playing some good road hockey right now. Really, we're doing it as a team."

If Ward gets the chance to record his 200th win Sunday, he'll need to improve on his recent play against the Panthers. He has compiled a 2.47 GAA while losing three of his last four to Florida.

Skinner, who had one goal in nine games prior to Saturday, has two goals with three assists in three career contests at Florida.

Carolina could be without forward Jiri Tlusty, who left Saturday's game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Tlusty has career highs of 15 goals and 16 assists this season.