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Panthers-Hurricanes Preview

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:47 AM

The Florida Panthers are on their longest winning streak in four years, and they're hoping it will eventually lead to their first division title.

A favorable portion of their schedule would appear to present a golden opportunity for them to move closer to that accomplishment.

The Panthers look to add to their growing cushion atop the Southeast Division by continuing their success against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night at PNC Arena.

Florida (36-23-13) has won five in a row for its longest run since capturing seven straight March 2-16, 2008.

The surge has helped the Panthers open a five-point lead on second-place Washington, as they seek their first division title and first playoff appearance since 1999-2000.

Florida inched closer to those goals with a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday despite being outshot 36-13. Stephen Weiss and Sean Bergenheim scored in support of Scott Clemmensen's 35 saves.

"We need everyone contributing, and we have that," coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have guys like Scott that are scratching and clawing to get in the lineup, and that showed out there. That's a product of work ethic, and he deserved the chance. He played well. He made a statement there."

The Panthers are getting a chance to make a statement of their own thanks in part to an advantageous schedule that includes eight of their remaining 10 games against opponents currently out of playoff position, including each of the next six.

Florida looks to start that stretch with another victory over the Hurricanes (29-29-15). The club has won all four meetings this season, including both in Raleigh after overcoming a two-goal, third-period deficit for a 3-2 shootout win there Feb. 25.

The Panthers took the most recent matchup 2-0 at home March 11 to start their current streak, and the division rivals will face off there again in the regular-season finale April 7.

Tomas Fleischmann is looking to rebound from his pointless effort against the Flyers after getting five points in the previous five games. The left wing has three goals against Carolina this season, one in each of the two meetings at PNC Arena.

The Hurricanes are trying to make a late run at a playoff spot, but a seven-point gap on eighth-place Washington with nine games remaining may be too much to overcome.

Still, Carolina enters this matchup seeking its first four-game win streak since Dec. 11-18, 2010.

The Hurricanes matched their longest run of the season by beating Winnipeg 4-3 on Sunday, a day after a 5-3 victory at Minnesota.

"It's a gutsy effort, back-to-back games coming into a really tough building," coach Kirk Muller said. "This is the way our guys have been playing since Christmas. They go, give it everything they got. We had a short bench, had injuries there (Sunday) and everything, but they've been finding a way to pick up points and I'm really proud of the group. Everybody's really stepped up."

Chad LaRose is one of the surprising contributors, scoring six goals in eight games, matching his total from the previous 33. His 17 goals are two shy of his career high set in 2008-09.

Production against the Panthers has been scarce for LaRose, who has one goal in his last 16 meetings.

Eric Staal, Carolina's leader with 21 goals and 64 points, has also struggled versus Florida. He has one goal, one assist and a minus-5 rating in the past six road matchups.

The Carolina captain has two goals and three assists in four games overall, including three points against the Jets.

The Hurricanes will get another boost Wednesday after activating Joni Pitkanen from injured reserve. The defenseman has missed the last 44 games because of a concussion and a knee injury, but is recovered and ready to go from Jan. 3 knee surgery.

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