"That's a team we had to beat," Stillman said after the Hurricanes remained two points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo in the Eastern Conference playoff race. "It was a good start, an emotional start, that's for sure. I had a chance to score on my first shift and missed the net. But it's nice to get that game over with quickly."
"It was a very difficult game for our team to play and it looked like it," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "And we won. We've played games this year where we've played exceptionally and lost. Tonight we weren't as good as we expected our team to be and we won."
It was also the first game with their new teams for Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen and Florida forward Sergei Samsonov after the teams made another trade at the deadline on Monday.
The biggest boost for Carolina was the return of Staal, their captain, who was back in the lineup after missing Saturday's game at Montreal following a hard upper-body check from Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen that had taken him out late in the second period on Friday.
"I felt good," Staal said. "It took a little bit to get legs into it early, but for the most part I felt pretty good. We're going to look forward to Thursday against Buffalo. We would like to have looked a little better breaking the puck out of our end, but they skated hard."
With Buffalo coming to the RBC Center, the 'Canes had to fight the temptation to look past the Panthers, who traded off several veterans as the deadline approached.
"The biggest mistake that you make in this League is to take a look at a team and think that it somehow will get easy," Maurice said. "It's just not an easy sport, and that's what's great about it."
Stillman got the Hurricanes on the board on a rush 5:25 into the game, sending the puck ricocheting off the outside of his left skate and between Scott Clemmensen's pads.
Staal made it 2-0 on a power play at 14:55, camping on the left doorstep and barely moving his stick to tip in Stillman's pass from the right circle.
"Cory is going to make two or three plays a game that we really don't have anybody else that can make," Maurice said. "That pass on the goal is one of them."
Weiss halved the lead for Florida at 3:58 of the second when he outfought defenseman Joe Corvo in the low slot and beat Ward to the glove side. The Panthers pressured Ward the rest of the way but couldn't beat him.
"They've always been known to be a hard-working team, and they had quite a few changes in their lineup," said Ward, who made his 23rd straight start in goal. "You know when guys get opportunities to play they're going to be working for jobs."
Florida coach Peter DeBoer said he couldn't have asked for anything more -- except another goal or two.
"I give ourselves an 'A' for effort," DeBoer said. "With Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman over there we knew they'd come out quickly and they did. But I thought our guys showed a lot of resiliency and probably deserved a better fate."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
|Troy Bodie Fighting against Hugh Jessiman|
|Hugh Jessiman Fighting against Troy Bodie|
|Darcy Hordichuk Holding against Chad LaRose|
|Eric Staal Holding against Mike Santorelli|
|Michal Repik Hooking against Troy Bodie|