RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes got everything they wanted out of their game Friday against the Florida Panthers.
The Canes won 5-1 at PNC Arena, picking up two much needed points and rebounding from a tough loss earlier this week to the Winnipeg Jets.
Goaltender Anton Khudobin was sharp, again. Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty scored as the Canes top line produced. Defenseman Brett Bellemore had a goal and won a fight, falling an assist short of notching his first career Gordie Howe hat trick a goal, assist and fight in a game.
The Canes, after spending practice time on the power play for two days, got a power-play goal from defenseman Andrej Sekera. And fourth-line center Riley Nash scored for the second straight game, giving the Canes a 1-0 lead against a Panthers team that lost in Detroit to the Red Wings on Thursday.
The Panthers were game, and certainly not lacking energy as Nick Bjugstad scored in the first period.
They came in and played hard, and theyve been playing that way recently, Canes coach Kirk Muller said. We said we had to match their hard work.
Nash, Semin and Bellemore scored in the first as the Hurricanes (26-21-9) built a 3-1 lead. Tlusty scored early in the second, and Sekera got the power-play goal in the third on a shot from the point.
We played good, Sekera said. Theres still room for improvement but we got two big points for us, which was important.
Khudobin was playing his 16th straight game and Bjugstads goal came on a shot that Khudobin had go off his right pad and slip past him. But he also stopped Bjugstad on a breakaway early in the third when the Panthers (22-29-7), playing their final game before the NHLs break for the Winter Olympics, tried to skate back into the game.
Things were a little too loose at times for Mullers liking, but the Canes got the job done.
Once we got the lead we kind of backed off and started to play kind of pond hockey, Muller said. The game got a little bit too open for us. It was an up-and-down type of game and we had to tighten it up.
Jeff Skinner had a pair of assists for the Canes, and a shot by Eric Staal set up Tlusty for his second-period rebound goal, which ended the night for Panthers goalie Tim Thomas. Staal also moved past Ron Francis into first place on the franchise list for most career shots with 2,542.
Bellemores goal came on a shot from the right wing after Skinner and Elias Lindholm hustled to keep the puck in the zone. Bellemore then dropped the gloves in the second to battle Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Both landed a few blows before Bellemore spun Gudbranson to the ice and landed on top of him.
These games are so big right now, Bellemore said. Look at the schedule and the standings and it's pretty tight.
The Canes, battling for playoff position in the tightly bunched Metropolitan Division, have one game left before the break. The Montreal Canadiens will visit PNC Arena on Saturday for a 6 p.m. game.
Muller would not say if Khudobin would start again, or if goalie Cam Ward might make his first start since the Dec. 31 comeback victory over the Canadiens. Muller also was unsure about the availability of defenseman John-Michael Liles, who left Friday's game with a lower-body injury.
We want to finish on a good note and feel good about ourselves, Nash said.
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