HURRICANES 3, PANTHERS 1: Captain Eric Staal scored a pair of goals and defenseman Joni Pitkanen returned from a 44-game absence to record a tally and an assist as Carolina topped Southeast Division-leading Florida to extend its winning streak to four contests.
Cam Ward made 30 saves for the Hurricanes, who improved to 6-2-2 in their last 10 overall and 6-1-3 in 10 at home. Carolina climbed within five points of idle Washington for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining.
It took just 46 seconds for Staal to give Carolina the lead as he took advantage of a turnover and scored his 22nd goal.
After gaining possession just inside the blue line, Staal skated down the right side and behind the net before firing the puck into the crease from the left side. The puck caromed off Florida defenseman Jason Garrison's skate and past Jose Theodore for a 1-0 advantage.
Sidelined since Dec. 6 due to a concussion and knee surgery, Pitkanen doubled the lead midway through the second when he one-timed a drop pass from Tuomo Ruutu past Theodore. Pitkanen has notched a point in five of his last six games.
Tomas Fleischmann halved the deficit less than two minutes later. Ward stopped defenseman Ed Jovanovski's blast from the left faceoff circle, but Fleischmann's backhander went off Pitkanen's skate and into the net.
Staal restored the Hurricanes' two-goal cushion less than 8 1/2 minutes into the third. During a power play, Staal swept the puck past Theodore from the bottom of the right circle to complete his seventh two-goal performance of the season and second in as many games.
Theodore stopped 36 shots for the Panthers, who had their five-game winning streak snapped. Florida remained five points ahead of Washington in the Southeast.
GAME NOTEBOOK: Florida captain Stephen Weiss recorded an assist on Fleischmann's goal, keeping the duo tied for the team lead with 53 points apiece. ... Staal has scored four goals in his last two contests following a nine-game drought. ... Florida lost in regulation for just the second time in nine games (6-2-1). ... The Hurricanes had lost their first four meetings with the Panthers this season. ... Florida is 5-22-1 in its last 28 visits to Carolina.