The Carolina Hurricanes are on a stellar run, and the Florida Panthers are coming off one of their best performances of the season.
Now, an intriguing matchup is on tap when the teams meet Friday night in Raleigh, N.C.
The Hurricanes will be aiming for a franchise-record 10th consecutive victory. They tied the mark by claiming their ninth straight game on Tuesday, 3-0 over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
“We always stay with the same game plan,” Hurricanes forward Martin Necas said. “All the guys are playing great.”
While Carolina has enjoyed two days off, the Panthers arrive after earning a 7-2 home victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. That was Florida’s first game following a five-day holiday layoff.
“I thought it was important for us after Christmas to come back and start stringing together some wins,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said.
Aleksander Barkov’s hat trick in the first period set the tone for the Panthers, who compiled a season-high goal total. Barkov was back from a three-game absence caused by a knee injury, and he finished with five points.
“He changes every part of your game,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.
Florida lost the three games that Barkov missed, scoring a total of six goals in those games.
“He’s our best player, one of the best in the NHL and so very lucky to be able to play with him and have him on my team,” Tkachuk said.
The Panthers are 3-4-0 in road games in December going into their final game of the month.
The visit to Raleigh is bound to be far from ordinary for Maurice, who has had two stints as coach of the Hurricanes. He is in his first season with the Panthers.
The Panthers-Hurricanes game also offers family flavor with the Staal brothers — Florida defenseman Marc Staal and Carolina center/captain Jordan Staal — going head to head.
The Hurricanes are also on a franchise-record, 15-game points streak. The latest wave of success also includes a seven-game home winning streak, tied for the fourth-longest such stretch in team history.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour has tried to deflect emphasizing the winning streak but acknowledged that it ultimately could be important.
“It doesn’t really matter much right now,” Brind’Amour said. “It will probably mean more at the end of the year when we look back and hopefully that was a good stretch and got us hopefully where we want to be.”
There are questions about goaltending for the Hurricanes given that Antti Raanta has played in the past three games while rookie sensation Pyotr Kochetkov has been dealing with a minor ailment that has left him as the backup.
Raanta posted his first shutout since March on Tuesday. Carolina has four shutouts this season, tied with the New York Islanders for the NHL lead.
The Hurricanes’ line centered by Jordan Staal continues to be productive. Wingers Jesper Fast and Jordan Martinook have benefitted.
“It feels like they are making up for all of the times that they were all over the place,” Brind’Amour said. “All of a sudden, it is evening out a little bit. They are doing it right.”
The Staal line has combined for 19 points (eight goals and 11 assists) across the past five games. The group’s total for 12 December games sits at 14 goals and 15 assists.
–Field Level Media