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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Monday, March 23rd (All times eastern)

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

(Sports Network) - An important battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race is on tap tonight in Sunrise, as the Florida Panthers host the Carolina Hurricanes in a Southeast Division clash at BankAtlantic Center.

The Hurricanes are currently among the East's playoff seeds, as they are sixth in the conference with 85 points on the year. Florida, however, is ninth in the East with 80 points and is one point behind Montreal for the conference's eighth and final postseason berth. The Panthers are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Tonight's test marks the sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Southeast rivals. Florida has won three of the five encounters this year, but Carolina has still taken seven of 12 overall in the series. However, the Hurricanes have dropped two straight, three of four and four of their last six in south Florida.

Carolina comes into tonight's test riding a three-game winning streak and the club has posted a 7-1-2 record in March. The Hurricanes have also recorded at least a point in four consecutive games, having lost to Washington in a shootout just prior to the current winning streak.

The 'Canes exacted a bit of revenge for that shootout loss by downing the visiting Capitals on Saturday. Cam Ward was stellar between the pipes and Joni Pitkanen netted the game-winner early in the third period, as Carolina defeated Washington, 4-1, at RBC Center.

Rod Brind'Amour, Anton Babchuk and Joe Corvo also scored for the Hurricanes, who have won eight straight as the host. Ward stopped 31-of-32 shots for Carolina as the netminder started his 21st consecutive for the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes will close out March by playing two of three games on the road. Carolina, which is 17-15-6 as the guest this year, will host Ottawa on Wednesday before visiting New Jersey on Saturday.

Unlike Carolina, the Panthers have not been helping their playoff chances recently, as Florida has dropped five of its last six contests.

The Panthers were dealt a loss their last time out, as Columbus notched a 3-1 win Saturday at BankAtlantic Center. Raffi Torres scored twice late in the third period as the Blue Jackets came from behind to defeat Florida.

Rostislav Olesz scored the lone goal for the Panthers, while Tomas Vokoun turned aside 34 shots in the loss.

Florida is 1-2-1 on a five-game homestand that ends tonight. The Panthers are 19-11-6 as the host this year, but have lost four of their last six home tests.

03/23 10:45:45 ET

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