Thirteen games ago, the Panthers (29-27-13) were in last place in the division with a 20-25-11 record, but they have gone 9-2-2 in the last month to climb within five points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Florida has won two in a row and six of its last seven heading into the matchup with Carolina, a team it hasn’t beaten since the first week of the season.
The Hurricanes (34-28-8) have won four in a row against the Panthers and lead the season series 4-1-0. Carolina, tied with the New York Rangers for the final postseason berth, is looking to match the franchise-record win streak against Florida set in the 2005-06 season.
The Panthers, though, just snapped a longer in-season losing streak in their last game, defeating Atlanta 3-2 on Saturday for their first win in seven tries against the Thrashers.
“We can enjoy it tonight, relax tomorrow and regroup for a similar challenge against Carolina on Tuesday,” coach Jacques Martin said.
Florida fell behind in the first period but scored three straight goals against the Thrashers to take control. Jay Bouwmeester’s score early in the third period put the Panthers up 3-1 and proved to be the winner when Atlanta scored with 4:31 remaining.
Olli Jokinen had a goal and an assist for Florida, snapping a two-game scoreless streak with his fourth multi-point game in his last seven contests.
The Panthers held Atlanta scoreless on three power-play opportunities, the fourth time they’ve blanked their opponent on the power play in their last five games. After giving up 17 power-play goals on 67 chances (25.4 percent) in February, the Panthers have held opponents to 2-for-29 (6.9 percent) in March.
“It was definitely a huge win,” said Florida’s Ed Belfour, who made 30 saves. “The guys played hard right from the get-go and really deserved it. We’ve been working hard focusing on (penalty killing). They did a great job.”
Florida will be facing a Carolina team that ranks 27th in the league in power-play percentage at 14.8, and has been completely ineffective in that area of late.
The Hurricanes went 0-for-4 with the manpower advantage and lost 2-1 in a shootout to the New York Rangers on Sunday—their fifth defeat in as many shootouts this season. Justin Williams scored Carolina’s only goal as the Hurricanes fell to 0-for-29 on the power play in their last five games.
Despite earning a point, Carolina dropped into the eighth-place tie with the Rangers.
“Obviously you come here to get two points,” said Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who left in the second period after being cut on the leg. “But any point at this stage of the season is huge. You deal with it and move forward.”
Ward, who stopped 12 of 13 shots Sunday, is listed as day-to-day with the stitched cut on his knee. He said the injury isn’t serious.
Florida is last in the East with nine road wins, but has gone 3-2-1 in its last six games away from home. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have won two of three at home, but are just 4-6-3 there in their last 13 games.
Williams scored a power-play goal 1:47 into overtime to give Carolina a 3-2 victory in the last matchup with Florida on Jan. 16. After Tuesday, the teams meet twice more this season—April 1 at Florida and April 7 at Carolina in their regular season finale.