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Wednesday, March 21st (All times Eastern)

Florida Panthers (36-23-13) at Carolina Hurricanes (29-29-15), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Florida Panthers are creating momentum that could not only lead them to their first ever division title, but also make them a dangerous team come playoff-time.

The Panthers look to close in on their first trip to the postseason since 2000 and deny the Carolina Hurricanes a season-high fourth straight victory.

Florida has won five straight games for its longest winning streak since a franchise-best seven-game burst from March 2-16, 2008. The Panthers' 2-1 victory in Philadelphia last night gave them a five-point lead over the Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division with 10 contests left and a game in hand over Washington. The Caps are idle this evening before visiting the Flyers on Thursday.

The Panthers made the most of their opportunities on Tuesday, posting a season-low 13 shots but getting goals from Stephen Weiss and Sean Bergenheim in the close win. Scott Clemmensen made the offense stand up with 35 saves, while Brian Campbell assisted on both tallies.

"We want to keep this momentum going," said Florida head coach Kevin Dineen. "I think that's a word that we've used a lot lately. Trying to build some momentum and it's not just to get in. We want to be an effective team. I don't think we played our best game tonight."

The victory snapped Florida's three-game road slide and gave it at least one win over every team in the Eastern Conference this season. The Panthers are a perfect 4-0 versus the Hurricanes so far this campaign, including a pair of wins at Carolina.

The Hurricanes appear to be fading from the postseason picture despite playing some of their better hockey as of late. They are 5-2-2 in their past nine games and matched a season high with a third straight victory by taking Sunday's contest in Winnipeg by a 4-3 margin.

Still, Carolina is seven points behind eighth-place Washington with nine games to go.

The 'Canes rallied to beat the Jets on Sunday as Eric Staal's second goal of the game tied the contest with 9:36 left before Chad LaRose netted the game- winner with 1:22 to play. Jussi Jokinen added a short-handed goal and two assists, while Cam Ward came up with 30 saves.

"This is an atmosphere that you love to play in and this is our playoffs right now," said Staal. "We have to win as many games as we can at this point and have to play our top game every time. This was a big one for us."

Carolina will try to win four straight for the first time since Dec. 11-18 of last season and will have forward Jeff Skinner back as he returns from a two- game suspension for kicking a Blues player last Thursday in a 2-0 win. Skinner is second on the club with 20 goals, trailing only Staal's 21.

Defenseman Joni Pitkanen is also likely to suit up for the first time since Dec. 6 for Carolina after being activated from injured reserve. He has missed 44 straight games while recovering from both a concussion and knee surgery.

However, forward Andrea Nodl could miss at least a week due to a head injury suffered on Sunday that could be a concussion.

03/21 10:52:06 ET


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