Panthers look to make up ground vs. Hurricanes

( – The Florida Panthers hope to gain some ground on the
last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, as they shoot for a third
straight win in Saturday’s road clash with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Panthers are trying to make the playoffs for only the second time in 14
seasons and they sit six points behind Boston for the final postseason berth
in the East. The Bruins will be in action Saturday afternoon against

Florida is 4-1-1 over its last six tilts and recently capped a seven-game
homestand with back-to-back wins over the New York Islanders and Winnipeg

The Panthers were tied 2-2 with the Jets late in regulation, but Aleksander
Barkov recorded the game-winner with 3:53 left and Nick Bjugstad tacked on an
empty-net score in the final minute.

Derek MacKenzie and Brad Boyes had goals earlier to support an 18-save effort
from Dan Ellis. Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr each had two assists for

“This is a fun time of year to play hockey, whether you’re backing up or you
get a chance to play the games,” Ellis said.

MacKenzie’s tally was of the highlight-reel variety. Dave Bolland sent a no-
look pass from the right boards and MacKenzie slid on his stomach through the
slot to deflect the puck past Michael Hutchinson.

Ellis is expected to start again in place of No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo.
Luongo, who has missed the last three games with a sprained right shoulder,
will be with the team for the trip to Carolina, but isn’t expected to
play. However, he is questionable for Sunday’s road test against the New York

Florida has lost its last three road tests and is 14-13-7 as the guest this

The Panthers recorded a 1-0 home decision over Carolina on Nov. 26 to halt a
three-game slide in the series and win for just the second time in the last
seven meetings. Carolina has won two straight and four of the last five
encounters in Raleigh.

The Hurricanes are in spoiler mode, as the club is headed for a sixth straight
season out of the playoffs. Carolina has won just once this month, going 1-3-1
in March after ending February on a three-game winning streak.

Carolina has lost three of four (1-2-1) on a five-game homestand that ends
tonight. The ‘Canes fell 5-3 to Dallas on Thursday despite making a valiant
comeback effort in the third period.

The Stars yielded the first goal of the game before rattling off four
unanswered markers to build a 4-1 cushion by the latter half of the third
period. Andrej Nestrasil would answer for Carolina with 6:02 left and just 48
seconds later Chris Terry cut the deficit to 4-3.

Dallas would keep Carolina off the scoreboard after that and Patrick Eaves
recorded an empty-netter to seal the victory.

Victor Rask posted a goal and two assists in the loss, while Brett Bellemore
added a goal and a helper. Anton Khudobin allowed four goals on 31 shots in
the setback, which dropped the Hurricanes to 2-27-2 when trailing after two

“I don’t think we deserved to win, to be honest with you,” said Nestrasil.

Carolina is 15-13-4 as the host team this season.