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Hurricanes hope to secure playoff hopes, face Panthers

By Mike Lipka

Stats Writer

Carolina (39-28-7) at Florida (35-27-10), 7:30 p.m. EDT

SUNRISE, Florida (AP) -- An impressive home winning streak has

put the Carolina Hurricanes in position for their first playoff

appearance since their run to the Stanley Cup in 2006.

A timely road victory Monday night would go a long way toward

them achieving that goal.

A win in Miami would give the Hurricanes a seven-point lead in

the Eastern Conference over the Florida Panthers, who are

desperately trying to reverse a late-season stumble and end a

nine-year playoff drought.

The Hurricanes (39-28-7) have been one of the league's hottest

teams during the past month, averaging more than four goals

while going 11-3-2 since Feb. 19.

Their home winning streak reached eight with a 4-1 victory over

Washington on Saturday night, as they scored three times in the

third period and Cam Ward stopped 31 shots. Coach Paul Maurice's

club plays five of its last eight at home.

While Carolina hasn't been as good on the road, going 0-1-2 on

its most recent trip, it will have added incentive to win

Monday. The ninth-place Panthers (35-27-10) trail their

Southeast Division rival by five points, but have two games in

hand.

"We're not secure yet, plus we want to play like we're building

toward something," Carolina's Erik Cole told the team's official

Web site. "We want to be playing a certain way heading into the

playoffs."

Cole has contributed to the Hurricanes' offensive outburst with

two goals and eight assists in nine games since being reacquired

from Edmonton. He spent his first six seasons with Carolina.

Veteran Rod Brind'Amour has also stepped up for the Hurricanes

with five goals and five assists in his last eight contests,

including a goal Saturday. Defensemen Joni Pitkanen, Anton

Babchuk and Joe Corvo also scored against the Capitals.

"Our defense has had a huge impact on how we play," Maurice

said. "You are seeing some offensive creativity."

The Panthers are badly in need of some scoring as they try to

reach the postseason for the first time since the 1999-2000

season. They've scored one or no goals three times in their last

six games, going 1-3-2 to fall out of playoff position.

Florida led 1-0 for most of the game against visiting Columbus

on Saturday, but the Blue Jackets scored three times in the

final three minutes for a 3-1 victory.

"I really thought we did a lot of things well tonight, other

than win," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "I don't have an

answer. We're not putting up any white flags, there's a lot of

hockey left."

The Panthers can move back into eighth place on Monday as they

trail Montreal by one point. Both teams have 10 games remaining.

In the final meeting between Carolina and Florida, the

Hurricanes will be looking to even a season series that has

favored the Panthers. Florida hasn't had offensive problems this

season against Carolina, scoring three goals or more in four of

the five matchups and winning three of them. Carolina has lost

both games in Miami.

The most recent meeting was the ugliest for the Hurricanes, who

lost 5-0 at home Feb. 12. Ward was pulled after giving up four

goals on 13 shots, the third time in 13 career starts against

Florida that he has been chased.

The Panthers' Tomas Vokoun has been considerably better versus

Carolina. He stopped 42 shots in that contest and is 3-0-1 with

a 1.48 goals-against average in his last four starts against the

Hurricanes.

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