By Bill Whitehead
Stuck on seven wins and 20 points for what seemed like an eternity, the Florida Panthers produced Tuesday’s total team effort in a streak-snapping 4-1 win in Raleigh over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers displayed a relentless offensive attack that still missed some finish over the first 40 minutes, strong defense and goaltending, and excellent play on special teams, which included killing off a double-minor penalty and scoring two power-play goals. The only thing missing was Jacob Markstrom recording the first shutout by a Florida goalie, but it was a fine effort overall with some unusually good results in a building that hasn’t been Cat-friendly.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, didn’t follow the blueprint set out by Florida GM Dale Tallon but did make major acquisitions of their own last offseason. GM Jim Rutherford traded for Jordan Staal at last year’s draft in Pittsburgh while the ex-Penguin was getting married. He then took a gamble on Alexander Semin — a one-year, $7 million bet on the quirky Russian winger — and both have paid dividends. Semin is second in scoring and has a team-high 22 assists, while Staal is fourth in scoring.
Now, Carolina is getting a dose of what Florida has fought all year — mounting injuries. Defenseman Justin Faulk was injured Tuesday and will miss 2-4 weeks with an MCL strain. Carolina, also without starting goalie Cam Ward, had problems in calling up a defenseman from Charlotte since both Marc-Andre Gragnani and Michal Jordan are hurt; instead, they brought up Brett Bellemore for his first NHL recall. With Winnipeg winning and Carolina losing, the Jets reassumed the top spot in the Southeast Division, while the Eric Staal-led team has struggled in an 0-3-1 stretch. Carolina will have a tough fight on its hands with the Jets the rest of the way.
But enough Hurricane talk. Time for Florida to take over the Big Apple and Tortorellaville:
THE NEW GUYS: When Eric Selleck made his debut in Florida’s win over Carolina, it marked the sixth time this year a Panther had made his NHL debut, matching the number put up by Tampa Bay. Two of the Panthers’ first-timers have stuck around for good — Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore — while Mike Caruso, Quinton Howden, Jon Rheault and Selleck have spent more time at the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
DEEP-SIXING THE SIX: Florida broke its six-game losing streak (0-5-1) in the win over the Hurricanes, who the Panthers have struggled with historically but won’t face as a divisional foe next season. The losing streak dated back to March 5 against Winnipeg, also a 4-1 win but at home. In that one, Shawn Matthias scored his fifth goal of the season on a wicked inside-out move on defenseman Mark Stuart, and Matthias added his ninth, his first power-play marker, against Carolina when he shoved in a rebound off a shot by Filip Kuba.
GET USED TO IT: Florida will face extensive travel next year when it shifts out of the Southeast Division and becomes part of a division that includes Detroit, Boston, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and the three eastern Canadian teams clubs. Currently in the second game of a season-high five-game road trip, the Panthers will have traveled approximately 1,960 miles when it returns from next Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs.
STAT OF THE DAY: Florida, ranked 24th in the league in scoring, broke open a scoreless game by scoring four times in the third period against the Hurricanes. It was the third time this season the Panthers have accomplished at least a four-goal period, also connecting four times in the first period in the season-opener against Carolina and five times in a 6-3 win over Winnipeg on Jan. 31.
HOT CATS: Matthias, who had flu-like symptoms and rested all day in Raleigh, has six goals in his last 10 games. Tomas Kopecky, who assisted on Tomas Fleischmann’s goal, now has 13 points (9-4-13) in his last 17, while Marcel Goc has scored in consecutive games for the first time this year.
Florida (8-16-6, 22 pts.) at New York Rangers (15-12-2, 32 pts.)
Thurs., Mar. 21, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden — New York City, N.Y.
BY THE NUMBERS
FLA vs. NYR
18.2% (15th) Power play 14.3% (26th)
73.4% (30th) Penalty kill 83.2% (9th)
2.43 (24th) Goals per game 2.31 (27th)
3.63 (30th) Goals against 2.34 (4th)
0.63 (30th) 5-on-5 goals 1.07 (12th)
49.6% (20th) Faceoffs 51.2% (9th)
30.3 (9th) Shots per gm 30.0 (10th)
30.4 (23rd) Shots vs. per 28.8 (16th)
Florida has 22 points in 30 games: 35.2 over 48 games.
LOCAL TV BROADCAST
Fox Sports Florida, 7 p.m.
Steve Goldstein (PxP), Bill Lindsay (Color)
560 WQAM, 7 p.m.
Randy Moller (PxP)