HURRICANES 2, PANTHERS 1
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tuesday was a very good to Cory Stillman.
First, Stillman presented with a commemorative silver hockey stick as well as some gifts from old teammates to honor his playing in 1,000 NHL games. Then his son Riley was honored for leading the Carolina team he captained to a junior championship in Quebec.
The goal and assist Cory Stillman scored against his former team made a memorable day a truly special one.
Stillman, traded from Florida to Carolina last Thursday, showed the Panthers he still had a little left in the tank as he scored the Hurricanes first goal then sent a pretty pass to Eric Staal for the second as Carolina held off the feisty new-look Panthers 2-1 at RBC Center.
The Panthers, who trailed 2-0 going into the first break thanks to Stillman's shot and pass, outshot Carolina 42-22 as they pushed the Hurricanes throughout.
"They work every night,'' Stillman said of the Panthers. “I think they've played 37, 38 one-goal games. They're in the game every night and the longer you leave them hanging, the better they get. We sat on our heels a little in the second and third and played a lot in our own zone.''
The trade of Stillman signaled the start of Florida's sell-off, with Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen, Radek Dvorak, Dennis Wideman and Chris Higgins also being sent elsewhere.
Allen was traded to Carolina on Monday afternoon and initially thought the Panthers were going to let him travel on a charter flight to Raleigh that had plenty of room thanks to the deals. Allen said he was later denied transit with the Panthers and took a later flight; travel problems in North Carolina meant he didn't get to his hotel in Raleigh until 4:30 a.m. That didn't mean he wasn't ready to face the team he spent five seasons with.
“This is just something I have to fight through,'' Allen said during the first intermission. “I don't think I can put into words what playing them is like. This wasn't easy.''
Neither Stillman nor Allen showed any displeasure nor anger with being traded. And why would they? The Panthers are obviously playing for the future as Carolina is playing for the now. The Hurricanes victory -- their fourth in six tries against Florida this season – helped them solidify their postseason spot.
Florida dropped to 10 points behind Carolina in a race for eighth place that the Panthers are no longer realistically taking part of. General manager Dale Tallon surmised that for the Panthers to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, they would have to win 15 of their final 20. Make that 15 of 19 after Tuesday's loss.
That doesn't mean the Panthers gave up on Tuesday. Far from it. Stephen Weiss' goal early in the second cut Carolina's lead in half and Florida dictated play for most of the final 40 minutes – including a full-out final minute. Stillman cleared the puck with eight seconds left to end the game.
“We're creating chances, got shots, we played hard. I can't say we would play much different but get a better start and finish some chances,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We can't play better than 44 shots. It's not cohesiveness. We just have to score.''
Added goalie Scott Clemmensen: “We played well. The effort was there, can't fault that. The shots just weren't going in. I'm proud of the way we played tonight. We kept coming and fought the entire game. We never gave up. We keep playing like that, we'll be fine.''
The new-look Panthers – which had eight different faces in the lineup since last Monday's demoralizing 5-1 loss to the Islanders – trailed 1-0 after Stillman worked a loose puck past Clemmensen after Darcy Hordichuk had taken out Erik Cole on a rush.
Florida had a prime chance to tie the score midway through when Kenndal McArdle's hard shot from the left side seemed to surprise Ward. The Canes goalie left a juicy rebound and an empty net for the hard-charging Michal Repik to deposit the puck into. Instead, Repik wound up a bit too much and blasted the puck high into the air and into the mesh netting protecting those in the end zone seats.
Carolina made it 2-0 a few minutes after Repik's blastoff as Stillman slipped a perfect pass to a waiting Eric Staal on Carolina's only power play chance of the period. Staal barely moved his stick to redirect the pass past Clemmensen.
Stillman played in his 1,000th NHL game as a member of the Panthers on Feb. 16. Stillman was scheduled to be honored by the team before last Sunday's game against the Devils but he had already been traded. Weiss, one of Florida's two alternate captains (Allen and Stillman had been), presented Stillman with a silver stick commemorating the achievement after Florida's morning skate.
Weiss and his teammates also gave Stillman a gift certificate to a resort as well as a John Deere Gator riding cart for his summer cottage. A video tribute produced by the Panthers played on the RBC Center big screen prior to the game's start.
“He's a pretty special guy,'' Weiss said. “I learned a lot in the three years I played with him.''
-- DeBoer said Tuesday that it was unlikely forward Byron Bitz would play for the team this season because of complications following sports hernia surgery performed months ago. Bitz came to the Panthers on March 3, 2010, and played in seven games before missing the end of the season with an elbow injury. Bitz was diagnosed with a groin strain in training camp but eventually had hernia surgery.
“We have 20 games left and he hasn't been on the ice as far as I know,'' DeBoer said. “I don't think I'm out of line saying I don't think we're going to see him this year – unless something miraculous happens.''
You Again? Cory Stillman, Cam Ward lead Hurricanes Past Panthers 2-1 ... FLA Outshoots Canes 42-22 in Loss
HURRICANES 2, PANTHERS 1