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Whitney's goal extends Carolina's home dominance against Florida

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes trailed by two goals in the third period and were skating without their injured inspirational leader. That's a formula for big trouble, except that whenever they play the Florida Panthers on home ice, they always seem to find a way to win.

Ray Whitney's goal with 4:21 left helped the Hurricanes rally past Florida, 5-4 on Saturday night, to extend their home winning streak against the Panthers to 13 games.

"It says that we're not giving up," Whitney said. "We're continuing to work, regardless of our lineup, regardless of who's in or out, regardless of the situation. ... When you play hard and put pucks to the net, good things are going to bounce your way."

Wade Brookbank, Sergei Samsonov, Eric Staal and Trevor Letowski scored for the Hurricanes, who were playing their first full game since captain Rod Brind'Amour tore a ligament in his left knee, an injury that almost certainly will end his season.

In his absence, Whitney came up big. He took a backhand pass from defenceman Joe Corvo and wristed the puck past Tomas Vokoun to complete Carolina's comeback.

"I was kind of planning to get the puck into the inside, because you can make more things happen on the inside," Corvo said. "I don't normally like to throw a backhand pass across like that, but if it's there ..."

Nathan Horton scored two goals, one on a penalty shot, for Florida. Rostislav Olesz and Brett McLean also scored and Stephen Weiss added two assists for the Panthers, who haven't won in Raleigh since Dec. 6, 2002. The Hurricanes improved to 14-0-0 with one tie since then.

The Panthers suffered yet another crushing defeat at the RBC Center, which seemingly has become their house of horrors. Last January, Florida blew a three-goal lead by allowing six third-period goals and lost 6-4. Then, in the season finale, Carolina scored the final four goals in the third period and overtime of its 5-4 victory.

"It's unbelievable," Vokoun said. "I don't think words can describe it. It just shows you our lack of commitment to defence. Many times it didn't cost us but today it cost us dearly. We basically had the game and gave it to them. There is no secret to it."

Carolina won its third straight and fourth in five games to open up a two-point lead in the Southeast Division, and denied coach Jacques Martin his 100th victory with the Panthers.

The Hurricanes began their comeback midway through the third by scoring two goals in two minutes.

"We just kept fighting," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Resilient, I guess, is the word. ... We had the edge in skating and just couldn't seem to get ahead tonight until the end. That's when it matters most."

First, Staal quickly recovered from a hit that knocked him to the ice, sprung back up, somehow found the puck, then wristed it past Vokoun to make it 4-3. The Hurricanes tied it when Andrew Ladd sent a cross-ice pass to Tim Conboy, and he ricocheted the puck off Letowski with about 12 1/2 minutes left.

Horton broke a 2-2 tie - and chased Cam Ward in the process - by beating him with a snap shot from the left circle late in the second period. Then, after he was dragged down on a breakaway by Matt Cullen early in the third, he beat John Grahame with a high wrist shot on the ensuing penalty shot to make it a two-goal game.

"We got up 4-2, and they rallied after Nathan scored," defenceman Bryan Allen said. "We just didn't prepare ourselves for it and realize that you have to do the simple things to protect the middle and keep the puck out of your house."

Ward, making his 13th straight start, stopped 10 shots but allowed three goals. Grahame relieved him and also made 10 saves. Vokoun turned away 27 shots for the Panthers.

Both teams scored goals on redirections midway through the second. Weiss fired a wrist shot that deflected off Olesz and squirted through Ward's legs, and about 1 1/2 minutes later, Letowski's centring pass bounced off Samsonov's right shoulder and sailed into the net.

"You look at all their goals - a tip, a shot from the point right to the guy at the front of the net that tipped it, and then a guy with a missed assignment on the back check," Martin said.

Notes: Martin is 99-99 in his third season coaching Florida. ... Ladd finished with two assists and extended his points streak to five. ... Corvo and D Tim Gleason returned for Carolina after missing one game with the flu. ... The game was the second half of a two-sport doubleheader at the RBC Center. Workers reconfigured the arena from men's basketball to hockey in 75 minutes after Clemson beat North Carolina State 71-64.


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