SUNRISE, Fla. – The Carolina Hurricanes worked hard to get Peter Laviolette his 200th NHL coaching victory. A few fluky goals sure came in handy, too.
The Hurricanes scored three unusual goals in the third period, including Cory Stillman’s winner with 1:09 left, to beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 Monday night. “Funny goals, really,” Laviolette said. “I like the effort we put in. We really worked, Florida really worked, and it was an up-and-down hockey game.”
Laviolette recorded his 123rd victory with Carolina, following 77 during two seasons as coach of the New York Islanders.
“I’m fortunate to be here with a good team with good players,” he said. “I guess it’s a milestone. It’s more important to get the win and keep pushing forward with this group.”
Stillman scored the decisive goal shortly after teammate Erik Cole was removed from the ice on a stretcher following a collision with Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun.
The Hurricanes said in a statement that Cole was released from hospital and cleared to fly after a CT scan was negative. Cole will join the Hurricanes for the team’s flight to Tampa Tuesday morning, and he will continue to be monitored by the Hurricanes’ medical staff.
Cole was injured at 12:34 as he was driving to the net. He was checked from behind by defenceman Jassen Cullimore and crashed headfirst into Vokoun’s pads. Cole remained motionless for several minutes before being placed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.
“From what I understand, he had movement in his limbs,” Laviolette said at the time. “He had some pain in his trapezoid area and I think with his previous injury, not knowing what’s going on in there, it’s just better to be safe.”
The veteran of six NHL seasons is less than two years removed from a serious neck injury. Cole sustained a fractured vertebra on March 4, 2006, when he was boarded by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik.
He missed the remainder of that regular season and Carolina’s first 23 playoff games before making a surprise return to the Hurricanes lineup for the final two contests of the Stanley Cup finals when the team won its only NHL championship.
Stillman scored the winner when his backhanded pass from behind the net hit Vokoun’s pad and Florida defenceman Steve Montador’s stick and found its way into the net.
Jason Williams also scored twice for the Hurricanes, who beat Florida for the ninth time in 10 meetings. Ray Whitney had two assists, extending his point streak to 10 games.
Jozef Stumpel, Stephen Weiss and David Booth scored for the Panthers, who have lost three in a row.
“I thought we battled hard and we probably deserved a better fate,” Florida coach Jacques Martin said. “I think the key is to play hard like this every night and you will win your share of games.”
Cam Ward stopped 27 shots for Carolina, and Vokoun finished with 32 saves.
The game was tied 1-1 after two periods before Carolina took control with some fortunate offence.
Stillman had given Carolina a 2-1 lead 52 seconds into the third when he faked a dump-in on a power play and instead shot at the net, catching Vokoun out of position.
“I lifted my head and saw he was behind the net, so I just took a shot from centre,” Stillman said. “As soon as I wound up I could see he was starting to cheat.”
Carolina associate coach Kevin McCarthy told his players before the game that Vokoun had a tendency to leave the net early on dump-ins to play the puck behind the net.
“That was just a bad mistake by me,” Vokoun said. “I left early, there’s no reason for that. It was a bad play, and it ended up costing us a goal.”
After Weiss tied it off a nifty setup from Booth 18 seconds later, Williams gave the Hurricanes the lead again at 3:39. Williams’ wrist shot from long range floated above Vokoun’s right shoulder and dipped in right under the crossbar.
“Sometimes shots go in,” Williams said. “You saw mine, just across the blue-line, shooting pucks. Vokoun was really solid. He made some big saves. Give them credit, they battled back hard as they did last time we played them. This time we had the better of them.”
Booth made it 3-3 when he banged home a loose puck three seconds after Florida’s power play expired.
Notes: Florida recalled C Stefan Meyer and LW Tanner Glass from Rochester of the AHL, and put both into the lineup. … Florida LW Richard Zednik (flu) and C Brett McLean (broken hand) both sat out. … Whitney’s first assist was his 100th with Carolina.
-With files from The Canadian Press