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HURRICANES (18-15-6) at PANTHERS (18-18-2)
TV: FS-CR (HD), FS-F (HD)
Last 10: Carolina 5-3-2; Florida 5-3-2
Season series: These two Southeast Division rivals are already playing the fifth of six games this season, having split their previous four. That familiarity should be evident, considering this is their second matchup of the week. On Jan. 3 in Raleigh, the Hurricanes scored two third-period goals to send the game to overtime before Bryan Allen’s overtime marker gave the Panthers a 4-3 victory.
Big story: Both teams are making every point count in their respective playoff pursuits. The Hurricanes have earned points in five straight games while the Panthers have collected points in five of their past six. On Wednesday, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward made 33 saves at Madison Square Garden before Rangers rookie Mats Zuccarello's first NHL goal gave New York a 2-1 win.
Hurricanes: While captain Eric Staal has led the offensive charge most of the season, Ward has been Carolina's workhorse of late, having started seven straight games. While Ward has allowed at least three goals in five of those games, his .919 save percentage in that span has sparked a midseason playoff run. His stellar play against the Rangers even has some hoping he can duplicate the run in 2006 that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy.
"It was a tough game," coach Paul Maurice said after the game at MSG. "Cam was very good. A 1-0 game might have been predictable the way the game was played. "
Panthers: Against Atlanta on Wednesday, the Panthers began a favorable January stretch in which they will play eight of nine games at home. Spearheaded by Rich Peverley’s two goals, the Thrashers raced out to a 3-1 second-period lead that chased Florida starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun. With 16 third-period shots, the Panthers cut the Thrashers’ lead to 3-2 and almost tied the game with 6:22 left. But Bryan McCabe's slap shot appeared to stop just short of crossing the goal line on a play that was not reviewed by officials.
"It looks like a goal to me," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "I'm baffled as to why the referees, to make certain, wouldn't have gone to the penalty box and asked that they take a look at it or Toronto would have buzzed and taken a second look at it."
Who's hot: Staal is riding a three-game points streak and has 5 points in his last five games. … Chris Higgins has led the Panthers' scoring charge with goals in three straight games and 5 goals in his last six games. Teammate Stephen Weiss isn't far behind, with 6 goals in his last nine games.
Injury report: Forward Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Joni Pitkanen missed the Canes' game in New York and are day-to-day with lower-body injuries. Jiri Tlusty remains out indefinitely with an arm injury. … Florida forwards Byron Bitz (sports hernia surgery) and Mark Cullen (Achilles surgery) are on injured reserve.
Stat pack: Fans in attendance can expect a lot of shots on Friday night. Carolina and Florida allow the third- and seventh-most shots per game, respectively.
Puck drop: Maurice and DeBoer have a bond that goes beyond their place in the NHL coaching fraternity. They were teammates with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League from 1985-88, winning a league championship together in 1988. Their teammates on that championship team included former NHLers Adam Graves, Darryl Shannon, Glen Featherstone, Pat Jablonski, and Peter Ing. The owner of that team, Peter Karmanos, is the current owner of the Hurricanes.