Facebook: On Frozen Pond
RALEIGH, N.C. – A day after winning a defensive-minded game in Philadelphia, the Panthers tried to run with the fresh Hurricanes and, in the end, couldn't keep up.
Eric Staal's power play goal midway through the third helped Carolina end Florida's five-game winning streak as the Hurricanes held on for a 3-1 win at PNC Arena.
Carolina, which hadn't played since beating Winnipeg on Sunday night, kept its faint playoff hopes alive. Florida, meanwhile, kept a five-point lead over Washington atop the Southeast Division and remain two points back of Boston for the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have gone 9-4-1 since coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Hurricanes here 3-2 on Feb. 25.
“We didn't expect to play a loose game,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team took 31 shots after getting a total of 30 in its previous two games combined. “We wanted to be patient, use our strengths like board play and special teams. Those were an issue. Overall, the jump and enthusiasm leaned toward the home team.''
Florida was 4-0 against Carolina although the Hurricanes played with the confidence of a team who has now won four straight. Carolina didn't take any guff from the Panthers and the two teams exchanged words, shoves and punches throughout the game – and even after the final whistle.
Carolina's Bryan Allen – traded from the Panthers last season – said Florida's Kris Versteeg made a late slash on Staal which led to Allen and Ed Jovanovski squaring off at center ice as the both teams converged on each other. Although there were a few minor scuffles, it was more tough words than punches. The two full teams finally broke things off as coaches and officials restored the peace.
“Verteeg two-handed Staal as he was skating away. It was on then,'' Allen said. “It was a cheap play against out star player. Can't let that happen. It was a pretty gutless play I thought. It's an emotional game with a lot on the line. Sometimes emotions get the best of you.''
Said Dineen: “We've had their number pretty good this year. They are desperate for points to keep this thing going.''
The Panthers played on their heels most of Tuesday against the high-octane Flyers and the fatigue showed on Wednesday. Florida had a number of players fighting the dead legs despite Dineen throwing in three fresh forwards.
Florida was called for seven penalties (including Versteeg's slash after the game ended) and the Hurricanes' got their game-winner with Jerred Smithson in the box for a hook. The Panthers fell behind 1-0 when Staal fired a shot at Jose Theodore that clipped Stephen Weiss' skate and went through.
The Hurricanes made it a 2-0 game when Joni Pitkanen – who had been out since December – scored midway through the second.
The Panthers cut the deficit in half when Tomas Fleischmann backhanded a loose puck from the slot that struck Pitkanen and found its way past Cam Ward (30 saves). Florida couldn't get anything else past Ward, however, and heads south for a two home games against Edmonton and the Islanders.
“We have to find ways to create more and score more goals. We're not scoring enough,'' Weiss said. “We have to take care of business at home down the stretch. Hopefully we start a new run.''
Dineen made a number of changes to the lineup on Wednesday with Scottie Upshall returning to action for the first time since undergoing sports hernia surgery in February. Upshall had only played in 17 games this season because of the groin/hernia injury and had been working out in earnest for a return to action.
Dineen also brought back Mike Santorelli after three games off and re-inserted Smithson after he missed Tuesday's game in Philadelphia. With 15 forwards, Dineen has to sit three. The unlucky trio on Wednesday were Shawn Matthias, Wojtek Wolski and Krys Barch.
Wolski, who scored a goal last Thursday against Boston, has gone from playing on Florida's top line to being a healthy scratch in less than a week.
“It was a physical game in Philadelphia and I wasn't happy with his game,'' Dineen said of Wolski.