RALEIGH, N.C. -- Nothing has come easy for Dan Ellis since he broke into the NHL in 2003-04. Now playing with his sixth team, he is taking advantage of another opportunity to make an impression.
Brandon Pirri scored a power-play goal in the second period, and Dave Bolland scored into an empty net with 40 seconds remaining for the Panthers (31-23-14), who trail the Washington Capitals by six points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Ellis played in his fourth game after injuries to Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya and played for the Hurricanes during the 2012-13 season. After a 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars last Thursday, he has been in goal for three straight wins.
"My career has gone all over the place," said Ellis, who has 15 NHL shutouts. "I've played for a lot of teams. I've been up, I've been down. But I'm here right now. That's what I have to focus on, and I am enjoying it right now. Anything you can do to help a team get into the playoffs, it's a special time of year to get into games."
Ellis was on top of his game in the first period when the Hurricanes (25-34-8) had a 15-8 advantage in shots. He stopped Jeff Skinner twice at the right post, then got square to an Elias Lindholm redirect attempt at the top of the crease.
"We didn't play well in the first," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "There was no contact, we weren't skating real well. They had 15 shots and a lot of quality scoring chances. After that, we played pretty well."
Ellis, who has an unflappable personality away from the ice, took an easy-going approach getting ready to face Carolina. He said he joked with his friends and former teammates during warmups.
"I think that sometimes helps you stay loose, [plus] I have a little familiarity with the players and the building," he said.
Pirri gave Florida a 1-0 lead at 16:20 of the second period. He skated the puck the length of the ice before orchestrating a give-and-go with Jimmy Hayes. When he received the return pass, Pirri tucked a bad-angle backhand inside the near post. Chris Terry was in the box for holding Jonathan Huberdeau's stick.
Pirri has five goals in his past seven games since returning from an upper-body injury.
"I just wanted to break it in, but they gave me a little more room than they usually do," Pirri said. "So we took what we were given and Jimmy made a great pass.
"I just tried to get it on net. Cam Ward was playing great. We just tried to get shots on him and get traffic. We're going to take what we can get right now."
The Panthers limited the Hurricanes to four shots in the second period and played well in front of Ellis for much of the third.
"I felt like it was going to be a close game throughout," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We weren't at our best and they weren't rolling. We got the one, and we're luck it lasted. We really collapsed well [defensively] in the third period and hung on."
Carolina pressed hard in the final minutes. Ellis turned in his best save of the period on a wraparound shot from Eric Staal. Florida had a bit of good fortune too, when Ron Hainsey and Jeff Skinner each hit the post in the final minutes.
The Panthers had two good looks at an empty net after Carolina pulled Ward with 3:01 remaining. Justin Faulk wiped away Derek MacKenzie's tap in near the crease, and Jussi Jokinen missed the net from center ice before Bolland scored his fourth goal into the empty net.
"Dan Ellis was the real key for us," Gallant said. "He made a number of great saves. It was more of a 5-3 game than a 2-0 game, but the goalies were both real good."
Ellis has served as a rallying point for the Panthers, after playing his first 36 games of the season for the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.
"We haven't missed a beat since he's been here," Campbell said. "He's been incredible in all of them. He's been battling his whole career to get to the NHL and get an opportunity."
Ward made 20 saves for Carolina, which completed a five-game homestand 1-3-1. The Hurricanes have lost five of their past six.
"It's been going in the net a little bit too easy here lately and tonight there was one on the power play and an empty-netter," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. "So I liked our first period, I thought the second didn't have a lot of flow. In the third, I liked our push back."
The Panthers play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Gallant expects Ellis to start again, hedging against the possibility that Luongo could return.
The Hurricanes play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Sunday.