The Carolina Hurricanes can put a bow on their season series against the host Florida Panthers when the top teams in the Central meet again on Saturday.
Following a 4-2 victory at Florida on Thursday night, the first-place Hurricanes are now 6-0-1 against the second-place Panthers this season. Florida had nine power play chances yet only scored once against goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, and that was when it had a two-man advantage.
Carolina had a 3-1 lead on a short-handed goal from Sebastian Aho near the end of the second period, but Florida center Aleksander Barkov cut it to a one-goal game on one of the Panthers’ five power play chances in the third. Aho put the game away with another short-handed goal into an empty net the closing seconds.
By defeating the Panthers, Carolina (31-10-5, 67 points) took sole possession of first place in the Central Division and leads Florida (30-13-5, 65 points) by two points heading into their final regular-season meeting.
The two could meet again in either the first or second round of the playoffs.
“We found a way to win,” Carolina forward Nino Niederreiter said. “We battled through that game and it wasn’t pretty. We took way too many penalties, but we got under their skin a little bit. It was definitely a big win.”
“We’re after first place and you can tell, you can feel it. We’re coming down to the wire and everyone wants to take that first place to make sure you start at home.”
Nedeljkovic or Petr Mrazek could start for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. Nedeljkovic is now 3-0-1 against the Panthers; Mrazek has only faced them once this season.
Florida is expected to go back to Sergei Bobrovsky, who gave up three goals on Thursday but played well in making 25 saves.
Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said that goalie Chris Driedger was dealing with a minor lower body issue and would be out for a few days. If the Panthers opt not to play Bobrovsky, the start would go to 20-year-old rookie Spencer Knight who was victorious in his NHL debut Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Florida has struggled on the power play against Carolina this season. The Panthers won the first game of the season against Carolina on a Jonathan Huberdeau goal in overtime but has dropped the past six. Carolina’s penalty kill has been a big reason why.
The Panthers have now converted just 3-of-31 power-play chances against the Hurricanes.
Carolina, meanwhile, has cashed in on 9-of-25 power-play chances. Aho has three short-handed goals against the Panthers for good measure.
“We lost the momentum,” Quenneville said. “Even when we had the lead, the power play was ineffective. Their penalty killers have been in that situation with us all year long whether we don’t sustain momentum or don’t generate much.”
Carolina could be without forward Jordan Martinook who left the game Thursday after being hit by Florida defenseman Radko Gudas. Martinook did not return.
Florida is expected to be without Driedger, Noel Acciari and Carter Verhaeghe. Defenseman MacKenzie Weegar returned Thursday after missing the previous two games.
–Field Level Media