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The Carolina Hurricanes won their season-high fourth game in a row tonight, snapping the Florida Panthers’ five-game winning streak. Getting an early jump against a team that played last night, Eric Staal scored just 46 seconds into the game, and the team never looked back. Florida was down just a goal at 2-1 late in the second and into the third, but the Canes were able to put them away for their first victory over the Cats this season. “You just take it one game at a time, and it was another strong effort on our part tonight against another tough team,” said Cam Ward, who equaled his jersey number (30) in saves tonight. After netting two goals (and recording an assist) in Winnipeg on Sunday, Staal continued to dominate in the offensive zone for the Hurricanes tonight. He had two goals, the second coming in the third period on the power play. He’s got 23 goals on the season and 7 points (4g, 3a) in his last five games. “I really think he knows where he is with this organization: he’s our leader,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He leads by example. I think he’s having fun. I think he loves playing.” In his first game back from injury since Dec. 6, Joni Pitkanen scored the game-winning goal, assisted on another, got a delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass in his own zone and logged ice time on the power play. In all, he played nearly 19 minutes and was noticeable at all ends of the rink. Ward called Pitkanen’s goal in the second period a “momentum boost.” For his part, Pitkanen admitted to being nervous before the game. “That’s not easy to miss that much time and step into a game this late in the year and that big of a game. It looks like he never missed a game,” Muller said. “A really strong game for his first game back, and he made us a better team tonight.” Jeff Skinner returned to game-action after serving a two-game suspension. He logged six penalty minutes tonight, four of which occurred during post-whistle mix-ups. Those penalties, however, were also canceled out by matching minors to Florida. “You want to make sure you have guys sticking up for each other,” Staal said. “At the same time, [you want to be] smart and disciplined.” Skinner recorded an assist, the secondary marker on Pitkanen’s goal. The conclusion of the game got very interesting when Bryan Allen and Ed Jovanovski were battling in the neutral zone. A lineseman separated them, and the teams ended up coming together at center ice in what was a stand-off. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, though Tim Gleason was fired up and looking to drop the gloves with someone. “For me, that’s a moment where we need everybody on our team,” Staal said. “Once it started getting a little dicey, I was making sure I was yelling at our guys that we need everybody.” A brief return home, the Canes will fly out to Columbus on Thursday for a Friday night tilt with the Blue Jackets. The team’s fourth back-to-back set of the month will conclude Saturday night in Detroit against a Red Wings team that’s 28-5-2 this season at Joe Louis Arena. The three-game road trip will end in Toronto on Tuesday before the Canes come back home for another weekend back-to-back set with Winnipeg and New Jersey. With the team playing like it is now, who knows what the standings situation will be when they return next week? They’re keeping it interesting. “They’re battling and not going away,” Muller said. “We’ll give it all we’ve got every game, take care of our games and see where we end of at the end of the year.”
Recap (Associated Press)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes had a pretty good night: They added "Skins," a Finn - and another win.
Joni Pitkanen had a goal and an assist in his first game in three months, and Carolina beat Florida 3-1 Wednesday night to snap the Panthers' five-game winning streak.
"For a guy that's been out of the lineup as long as he (has), he looked real good," captain Eric Staal said.
Staal had his second straight two-goal game - giving him a team-leading 23 goals - and Cam Ward made 30 saves to help the Hurricanes win their season-best fourth straight and earn points for the 14th time in 17 home games.
Two key players were back on the ice for Carolina: Pitkanen, a native of Finland who missed 44 games with a concussion and a left knee injury that required surgery, and Jeff Skinner, a teenager nicknamed "Skins" who served a two-game suspension for kicking St. Louis forward Scott Nichol last week with his skate.
"I don't remember the last time I was this nervous before a game," Pitkanen said. "The first period was so fast, and the game went longer, and I started feeling more comfortable."
The Hurricanes are still a longshot to make the playoff field - they trail eighth-place Washington by five points with eight games left - but they're at least keeping things interesting.
Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, who had been on their longest winning streak since a club-record seven straight in 2008 and were denied their first season sweep in Raleigh.
"We knew that we just couldn't throw our sticks in there and be handed two points," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We knew we had to work hard. We knew they're playing well of late, they've won a few in a row, and it was going to be a tough game."
Jose Theodore, who entered 4-0 this season against the Hurricanes, stopped 36 shots for Florida.
Pitkanen put the Hurricanes up 2-0 with 9:05 left in the second period when he scored in transition. Tuomo Ruutu left him the puck behind the left circle and the defenseman blasted it past Theodore.
Florida made it 2-1 68 seconds later after Ward couldn't wrap up a shot by Jovanovski. Fleischmann's second-chance attempt ricocheted off Pitkanen's skate and into the net for his 23rd goal, matching a career high.
"I thought they came out very hard, and really showed they wanted to win this game," Florida forward Mikael Samuelsson said. "We battled back a little bit, but in the end, they played better than we did. ... Special teams (are) huge, and we were not great today, by no means."
Staal then scored on a power play with 11:36 left in the third - off a pretty assist from Pitkanen - and Ward stopped the final 13 shots he faced for his second straight win.
Staal entered with 42 goals in his previous 36 games - a major reason why the Hurricanes have been so hot lately - and wasted virtually no time adding to that total.
He put Carolina up 46 seconds in when he skated unimpeded down the wing and behind Theodore, then flipped a shot along the red line that clipped a Florida skater on its way into the net.
"I think I've tried that probably 15-20 times this year and it hasn't gone in," Staal said. "But it was good timing tonight, because it was nice to get off to the 1-0 lead and take our game from there."
Brandon Sutter came close to making it a two-goal game for the Hurricanes with a short-handed wraparound that got behind Theodore and traveled along the goal line - but never fully crossed it. A 2-minute video review upheld that on-ice call, and Pitkanen's goal came 31 seconds later.
NOTES: Things got chippy after the final horn, with both teams briefly confronting each other at center ice before the officials sent them to their dressing rooms. ... The Hurricanes have scored at least one goal in 10 consecutive periods. ... Fleischmann has four goals this season against Carolina. ... Staal has four goals in his last two games and points in three straight. ... Florida C Shawn Matthias, a healthy scratch, missed his first game since Oct. 20.