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The Carolina Hurricanes may be able to compensate for the offense they will lose with captain Rod Brind'Amour likely out for the season. Replacing his versatility and leadership will be far more difficult.
The Hurricanes begin life without arguably their best player Saturday night when they seek their 13th consecutive home win over the Florida Panthers in a key Southeast Division matchup.
Carolina (29-27-4) suffered a major loss Thursday when Brind'Amour, the team's second-leading scorer with 51 points, hurt his left knee during a knee-on-knee collision with Pittsburgh's Nathan Smith and Georges Laraque in his first shift of the game.
Although the Hurricanes won the game 4-2, the victory was overshadowed by the loss of Brind'Amour, a two-time Selke Trophy winner that anchors the Hurricanes' power-play and penalty-killing units.
"There's no question (that) in the locker room and on the ice, he's going to be missed," coach Peter Laviolette said. "From leadership, to the example in the weight room, on the ice, as a person, as a player, he'll be missed."
Brind'Amour was having reconstructive surgery Friday at a Raleigh hospital to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and is expected to miss at least four months.
Center Eric Staal, third on the team with 50 points, will be counted on to fill many of the roles that Brind'Amour did.
"Obviously, when you lose a centerman like Rod, other guys need to step up, and I'm one of them," Staal said Friday. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It doesn't just take me. It takes everybody."
Replacing Brind'Amour will be even more difficult because Carolina traded two key components of its 2006 Stanley Cup team - Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore - to Ottawa earlier in the week. The Hurricanes also are missing injured forwards Matt Cullen, Patrick Eaves and Justin Williams.
Hosting the Panthers (27-27-6) might be the best way for the Hurricanes to begin getting used to playing without Brind'Amour. Carolina has won 12 straight home games against Florida, and is 13-0-0 with one tie in 14 meetings in Raleigh since a 2-0 loss on Dec. 6, 2002.
The Panthers haven't had much success against the Hurricanes regardless of location, losing 10 of the last 12 overall meetings, although both victories have come this season.
Carolina is tied with Atlanta for the Southeast Division lead and is only two points ahead of Washington and Florida. The division winner could be the only team from the Southeast to make the playoffs.
"You look at the standings, there are five teams maybe fighting for one spot," Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "There's less margin for error than in the playoffs. In the playoffs you have to lose four games to get knocked out; now when we lose it gets magnified all the time because we play each other."
Ray Whitney keyed Carolina's win on Thursday, registering a goal and two assists following a five-game pointless streak. Whitney's goal was his first in 11 games while Staal found the back of the net for the first time in eight contests.
Florida scored three third-period goals, including Kamil Kreps' tiebreaker at 8:27, in a 4-2 home victory over Washington on Friday.
Nathan Horton and David Booth also scored in the third for the Panthers, who have at least one point in six of their last eight games (5-2-1).
Although he played Friday, Vokoun is likely to be in net again for Florida. Vokoun is 2-3-0 with a 3.22 goals-against average in five games this season against Carolina.