Hurricanes, Panthers both riding high ahead of matchup

The Carolina Hurricanes, who have won four of their past five games, play host to a team even hotter than they are -- the Florida Panthers, winners of five of their past six contests.

That's the matchup Saturday night as Carolina tries to replicate its 6-3 road win at the Panthers on Oct. 8, the only time the teams have faced each other this season. The Hurricanes built a 4-0 first-period lead in that game, chasing Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky after 20 minutes. Rookie Sam Montembeault took over in goal for the final 40 minutes, but it was too late by then.

Ryan Dzingel scored twice for Carolina in that contest.

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If the Hurricanes get a lead that big on Saturday, the game won't necessarily be in the proverbial bag, however, as the Panthers have been comeback kings of late.

Their latest feat came Thursday as the Panthers charged back from a four-goal deficit with barely 21 minutes to play to beat the visiting Anaheim Ducks 5-4 in overtime.

It was the second time in 10 days that the Panthers had rallied from a four-goal deficit to win. They defeated the Boston Bruins 5-4 in a Nov. 12 shootout after falling behind 4-0. The only other team in NHL history to pull off that feat -- win two games in a single season after trailing by at least four goals in each game -- was the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers, which was led by Wayne Gretzky.

On Thursday, Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad scored twice, including the game-winner 22 seconds into the extra session.

"It's crazy," said Ekblad, who notched his first multi-goal NHL game. "You don't want to be in that situation often, but we're confident we can come back.

"We got together between the second and third periods and had some words. It's all belief from every guy. You're sitting on the bench, goals are going in (against Florida), but nobody's freaking out."

Ten of Florida's next 12 games will be at home, with one of the road games coming on Saturday against a Hurricanes team that has been playing well without getting much separation from some of the other contenders in the Metropolitan Division.

"Everybody wins," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour told reporters in a slight exaggeration of everyone else in the Metropolitan Division. "I don't know what it's going to take to make the playoffs, but it's going to be a crazy number (of points)."

We're just past the quarter pole of the NHL season, so there's a long way to go before the contenders are separated from the pretenders. But, as of now, the Hurricanes and Panthers are both in playoff position.

In fact, the Panthers' 29 points through 22 games are the most they have accumulated at this point of the season since 1996.

Both teams are mostly healthy, although Panthers defensive MacKenzie Weegar missed his fifth straight game on Thursday as he continues to recover from taking a puck to the face. Panthers fourth-line center Jayce Hawryluk also sat out due to an upper-body injury.

The Panthers are a dangerous team late in games, with 32 of their goals coming in the third period. They are No. 2 in the NHL in third-period goals and first in overall scoring average per game.

Carolina's goalies are Petr Mrazek (10-4-1, 2.68 goals-against average) and James Reimer (3-4-0, 3.07 GAA). Reimer, who played the previous three seasons with Florida, beat the Panthers in that aforementioned 6-3 game last month.

Bobrovsky (9-4-4, 3.47 GAA) surely wants to avenge that loss. Montembeault (3-1-1, 2.96 GAA) is also available.

--Field Level Media

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