NHL

Hurricanes-Panthers Preview

The most successful regular season in team history won't mean much to the Florida Panthers if they don't make a deep playoff run, something they haven't accomplished in 20 years.

Other contenders could opt for resting their stars prior to the postseason, but the Panthers might consider otherwise in order to help build momentum.

The Atlantic Division champs look to head into the playoffs on a high note by winning a sixth straight meeting with the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.

Florida's division title marks its first since winning the Southeast in 2011-12, when New Jersey bounced it in the first round in seven games. The Panthers (46-26-9) expect a much better showing this postseason after recording 100 points for the first time while setting a team record for victories.

They haven't won a playoff series since losing to Colorado in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, and they'll have a tough time doing so this year, too, if they give efforts like Thursday's.

Jaromir Jagr scored, but Ottawa controlled much of the play in a 3-1 victory that snapped Florida's four-game winning streak. The 44-year-old Jagr probably could use a break, but resting him and others could contribute to another letdown against Carolina (35-30-16) with the playoffs on deck.

"We should be motivated no matter what. There is a huge difference if you give 100 percent or 95. You could see it," said Jagr, who has a team-high 65 points. "The body just remembers the last game, so we have to make sure we play the best hockey before going into the playoffs. Two bad games before the playoffs, I don't think would be very smart.''

Coach Gerard Gallant said he was surprised that the Panthers weren't more fired up after clinching home-ice advantage through the first two rounds with Tuesday's win over Montreal.

"I expect Saturday we'll play really well, our last fan appreciation game and a big game for us," Gallant said. "We talked about taking care of business and we accomplished what we wanted to do."

Roberto Luongo rested Thursday but could be back for a playoff tuneup. He made 24 saves in a 2-0 victory over the Hurricanes on Dec. 18 and has stopped 66 of 67 shots while winning his last three starts against them.

Carolina has been outscored 15-2 while dropping the last five meetings and has scored fewer than three goals in four of its last five. It is wrapping up a seventh straight season without a playoff berth by trying to draw positives from each contest.

The Hurricanes' 86 points are their most since 2010-11, and they were competing for a wild-card spot in the season's final weeks.

"We've made a lot of strides. We're one of the youngest, if not the youngest team in the league," center Jordan Staal said after assisting on rookie Noah Hanifin's goal in Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Canadiens. "We've done a lot of learning and done a lot of good things. We're going to keep trying to get better, and these young guys are only going to get better."

Carolina has been shut out three times during its skid against the Panthers, and 21-year-old center Elias Lindholm scored its only goal against them this season in a 4-1 loss Oct. 13.

Cam Ward has lost his last three starts against Florida despite allowing one goal in each.

Comments

More NHL