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Former Florida Center Kirk Muller New Coach of Carolina Hurricanes ... Debut Tuesday vs. Panthers and Former WhalerCane Kevin Dineen

MullerRALEIGH -- Kirk Muller spent parts of three seasons playing for the Florida Panthers.

Muller, who played in 19 NHL seasons, came to Florida at the end of the 1996-97 season, scoring a goal with two assists in the Panthers five-game series against the Rangers.

Muller is part of the last Florida team to win a postseason game as the Panthers won the opening game against New York but are 0-8 in playoff games since.

On Monday, Muller was named the new coach of theCarolina Hurricanes after Paul Maurice was fired for a second time by the organization.

Muller2Muller's first game as an NHL coach comes against the Panthers on Tuesday.

He'll see some familiar faces on Tuesday as former Panthers teammates Ed Jovanovski, Gord Murphy and Billy Lindsay are all still around in one capacity or another. 

“And I played with Kevin Dineen,'' Muller said during his introductory press conference at RBC Center on Monday evening.

“He's done a good job down there so far. I played in Florida for a couple years late in my career and they've done a nice job of turning things around. But our focus is here. I'm excited. It's here where we start rolling up our sleeves – even tonight – and come in tomorrow and start learning everyone. It's exciting. There's no break once it starts. It's going to be fun.''

General manager Jim Rutherford told me that he didn't make the coaching change just because the first-place Panthers are coming to town; no, this has been in the works for a couple weeks.

Rutherford has been talking to Muller – who spent five seasons as an assistant in Montreal before taking over AHL Milwaukee this summer – for at least a week.

Muller3Carolina's 4-3 loss at Ottawa wasn't so much a last straw, but a time in which Rutherford felt it was time. Rutherford is very close to Maurice and didn't want to make this move. But with losses in three straight and 10 of the past 13, something had to be done. Especially with everyone talking about this move being made.

“When things aren't going well,'' Rutherford said, “bad things happen. The cloud is hovering over you. The players who haven't played well or those who don't think they got the opportunity they thought they did have a chance to start with a new coach. It's a clean slate. Don't look at the stats and say 'I have a minus-10,' or 'I only have one goal.' It's all new now. This is what we do under the new coach.''

And no offense, but with a ton of games left, Florida's eight point lead over Carolina in the Southeast Division doesn't exactly look all that intimidating.

“We aren't too far away that we can't catch up,'' Rutherford said. “But this isn't a sprint. We don't expect to win the next 10 games and be right back up there. This is going to be a gradual move to get in there by January and February, then fight it out until the end.

"We don't want to give up on this season. We want to make a run at the playoffs. That's still our goal. There's still lots of time.''

DinnenTUESDAY: PANTHERS AT HURRICANES

When, Where: 7 p.m.; RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Hurricanes lead 48-34-11

The game: The Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice Dinnencaneson Monday after a 4-3 loss at Ottawa. The Canes have lost three straight and 10 of their past 13. Kirk Muller was named the new coach on Monday afternoon. Florida lost two straight – both to Tampa Bay – but have won seven of 12 away from Sunrise.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen played parts of 10 seasons for the Hartford Whalers and moved south with the team when they became the Hurricanes. Dineen spent two seasons in Carolina from 1997-99.

The Hurricanes spent those first two seasons in Greensboro and moved to Raleigh in 1999.

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