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The Florida Panthers head into Saturday night’s game with the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., knowing that the road to an Atlantic Division title begins with improving their performance on the road.

Florida is an NHL-best 18-3-0 on home ice this season, which is an amazing four more wins than any other team in the league. But the Panthers, who trail first-place Tampa Bay by two points, have won just four times (4-4-5) in 13 games away from Sunrise, Fla., which ties them for the second-fewest road wins in the league.

The Panthers managed to garner a point on the first stop of their two-game trip on Thursday night thanks to Jonathan Huberdeau’s goal with 28.5 seconds left in regulation, which forced overtime in an eventual 6-5 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars.

“I wouldn’t say I was overly happy,” said interim Florida head coach Andrew Brunette. “I thought we played a 50-50 hockey game on the road. We had stretches that we played well and stretches where we didn’t. Kind of wasn’t our A-game, but we found a way.”

Aleksander Barkov had two goals and Aaron Ekblad added three assists to lead the Panthers in a contest that also marked the 1,700th NHL game for forward Joe Thornton.

“Obviously, we’ve been really good at home,” Barkov said. “We’ve established that identity at home. Now we’ve got to figure out how to do it on the road.”

“We thought we could’ve gotten two (points) tonight,” added Thornton, just the sixth player in NHL history to reach the 1,700-game mark. “Now we’ll get our rest and have a big game against Carolina on Saturday.”

The Hurricanes bring a five-game winning streak into the contest after defeating the visiting Calgary Flames 6-3 on Friday night to improve to 11-3-0 at home while also leapfrogging the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers to move into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Brady Skjei had a goal and two assists and Andrei Svechnikov scored twice for the Hurricanes, who have won nine of their last 10 games. Frederik Andersen made 36 saves for his seventh straight win.

Carolina, which had a six-day break after a 7-4 win at Columbus on New Year’s Day after a Monday game at Toronto was postponed, started slowly and gave up a season-high 21 shots and a goal to Blake Coleman in the first period. But the Hurricanes rebounded to score the next four goals, including one by Jesper Fast near the end of the first period, and never trailed again the rest of the way.

“I kind of figured that was going to happen,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of his team’s slow start. “Playing a really good team that plays quick and hard, and we just came off that long break. As much as you talk about it, you’ve got to be in the rhythm. It just took us a while. (Andersen) kept us in the game in that first period, and we were fortunate to come out of there 1-1 for sure.”

Despite the rust, Carolina killed four more penalties to extend its streak to 26 in a row dating back to Dec. 7.

“I think the guys have really taken that to heart,” said Brind’Amour. “They take a lot of pride in that. … It’s a crucial part of the game, especially in a game like tonight where if they get one on the power play there it’s a different game.”

–Field Level Media