Thursday, April 8, 2021 07:00 PM (ET)
Last Meeting ( Apr 6, 2021 ) Florida 2, Carolina 5

There's not much separation between the top teams in the Central Division, and sorting that out isn't easy this week.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers have joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in contending for the lead in the division. The Hurricanes and Panthers meet for the second time in three nights when they match up Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.

"It comes down to who's going to be better in that game," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "It comes down to who's going to execute better in those situations."

The Hurricanes had the edge Tuesday night, scoring four third-period goals in a 5-2 victory. Carolina trailed 2-1 entering the final period and came away with a notable result.

That's because the Hurricanes had been 0-4-0 when trailing after the second period this season. Florida held an 18-0-1 record when leading after two periods.

"We've got a lot of individuals who are very competitive and hate to lose," Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said.

Staal racked up the go-ahead goal and later added one of two empty-net tallies for the Hurricanes.

Florida had gone eight consecutive games without yielding more than three goals. The Panthers had their six-game winning streak snapped, a string that was the longest active run in the NHL.

"This game is a tough team to play against," Barkov said. "It's not about them. It's about us and how we play."

Thursday's game is the last meeting in Raleigh. The Hurricanes and Panthers meet two more times later this month in South Florida.

"It's a fun race. It's huge, too, where you're seeded," Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman said. "They've been tight and kind of like a little playoff feel to it. Two good hockey teams. That's why it's tight."

The Panthers expect more of the same when colliding with Carolina.

"They're all tight games," Barkov said. "We have to be a little better in certain areas."

Barkov has scored three goals in three games since missing time with an injury.

The Hurricanes have used goalie Petr Mrazek in the last two games for his first NHL outings in more than two months following surgery on his right thumb.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said Carolina is a three-goalie team as it sorts out a potential goaltender rotation. If that's the case, either James Reimer or Alex Nedeljkovic is bound to be back in the net soon.

Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck had a goal and an assist Tuesday night, continuing to produce against the team that traded him to Carolina in February 2020. This season, he has five goals in five games vs. the Panthers.

"It's just luck of the draw, I guess," Trocheck said of the success in those meetings. "I've got some greasy ones against them this year."

Panthers coach Joel Quenneville held defenseman Keith Yandle out of the third period Tuesday night. He called that a coach's decision. Yandle has played in 906 consecutive games for the longest active ironman stretch in the NHL -- and the third-longest all-time.

Carolina played without winger Brock McGinn, who exited Sunday's game against the Dallas Stars with an injury.

--Field Level Media

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