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Panthers look to make up ground vs. Hurricanes

Mar 14, 2015 - 2:47 PM ( - 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 Pittsburgh.

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 Jets.

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 Florida

"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 Rangers.

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

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 periods.

"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.