RALEIGH, N.C. – The divisions changed for the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.
The results haven’t.
The Hurricanes extended their home-ice dominance of their former Southeast Division rivals, beating them 5-1 on Friday night.
Riley Nash and Alexander Semin scored 87 seconds apart in the first period. Brett Bellemore, Jiri Tlusty and Andrej Sekera also scored, and Jeff Skinner had two assists to help the Hurricanes win their seventh in 10 games.
“It’s a little bit more fun when you’re playing with the lead,” Nash said. “In this league, especially, it’s tough to come from behind every night, so getting that lead is especially important.”
Carolina improved to 30-7-4 at PNC Arena against the Panthers, winning both meetings this season. Realignment sent the former division rivals in different directions, with the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan and Florida in the Atlantic.
Carolina pulled even with fifth-place Washington with 61 points in its crowded division, while Florida remains firmly in seventh place in the Atlantic.
“It’s really disappointing to see where our expectations are, and my expectations and everybody’s expectations have to be on the same page, and I think we have to raise them,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “We have to expect more from each other, and I expect more from them because it’s certainly not desperate hockey, and it’s certainly not where it needs to be.”
Eric Staal set the Hurricanes’ career record for shots on goal, passing Hall of Famer Ron Francis late in the second period. Staal finished with four shots, giving him 2,542.
Anton Khudobin stopped 34 shots in his 16th straight appearance for Carolina.
Nick Bjugstad scored for Florida, which enters the Olympic break having lost five of six.
“We put ourselves in this situation,” captain Ed Jovanovski said.
Tim Thomas stopped just 10 of the 14 shots he faced. He was pulled with 15:24 left in the second after Tlusty tapped in a rebound to make it 4-1.
Scott Clemmensen replaced him and stopped 16 shots.
Ten Hurricanes appeared on the score sheet and Skinner was the only one with multiple points.
“To be successful in the NHL, you can’t rely on one line,” Nash said. “You see the teams that had success in the past, win Stanley Cups, they have four lines that chip in and they have their big guns going like we do. It’s been nice to see.”
Carolina pounced on the Panthers early in this one, with Nash and Semin striking in bang-bang fashion.
Nash scored at 9:17 of the first when Tuomo Ruutu dug the puck out near the boards and slipped it toward the slot to Nash, who beat Thomas high.
Semin then made it a two-goal game at 10:44 with a spinning wrist shot—his third goal in two games this season against Thomas and the Panthers.
“That was actually the game plan—come out, just stay on them, get pucks behind them,” Bellemore said. “Get shots to the net, keep getting chances and wear them out.”
After Bjugstad pulled Florida to 2-1 with a wrist shot that trickled past Khudobin, Bellemore restored Carolina’s two-goal lead with a slap shot with 1:39 left in the first.
“Once we got the lead, we kind of backed off and started to play a little more pond hockey,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “Game got a little bit too open for us and it was an up-and-down kind of game, so we just had to tighten it up at times.”
NOTES: Staal, who assisted on Tlusty’s goal, has 36 points in 35 games. … Ruutu skated in his 600th career game. … Carolina improved to 16-1-4 when scoring first. … Bellemore and Florida D Erik Gudbranson slugged it out with 5:29 left in the second. Bellemore ended the fight by slamming Gudbranson to the ice.
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