The Carolina Hurricanes proved once again they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs. The trick will be getting there.
Sami Kapanen and Tommy Westlund scored in a two-minute span in the second period as the Hurricanes defeated the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers 4-2 on Tuesday night.
Carolina beat New Jersey - the top team in the Eastern Conference - last Friday, but was shut out two days later at Montreal by the injury-riddled, last-place Canadiens.
"There might be a little bit of fear that if you're not ready to play a solid 60 minutes against the top teams that you are going to be beat up," said Kapanen, who is headed to the All-Star game on Sunday.
"Everybody was pumped and ready to play and against the good teams we are taking better care in our own end," he said. "That is the way this team needs to play. We need to find a way to do this every night no matter who the other team is."
The Carolina victory, coupled with Pittsburgh's win over Washington, has the Hurricanes three points out of the Eastern Conference playoff race with 29 games left.
"I really think the last two months we haven't played that bad," Carolina's Paul Coffey said. "We've been working hard, but you're got to score goals to win games and I think tonight we paid the price a little bit better and finished all of our checks down low. We got their defensemen a little bit tired and they had their heads up a little more."
The Panthers are 2-4-1 in seven games since going a season-high 13 games over .500 two weeks ago.
"This is something that happens in a long season and we just have to work our way through it," Florida coach Terry Murray said. "We're at a low point and we have to bounce back and get going in the second half."
After trailing 2-0, Florida tied it as Mark Parrish and Victor Kozlov beat Arturs Irbe from the slot 1:50 apart.
But Kapanen scored his 20th goal 27 seconds after Kozlov's tally on a great move, warding off three defenders and beating Mike Vernon with a shot through traffic.
Less than two minutes later, Martin Gelinas fed Westlund in close and he beat Vernon up high for his fourth. The Panthers fell to 0-11-1 when trailing after two periods.
Vernon, who beat Carolina 5-1 three weeks ago, gave up a pair of goals 14:06 in as the Hurricanes peppered him with 11 first-period shots.
Ron Francis, returning to the lineup after missing two games with back spasms, scored his 14th midway through the first. Francis converted a nice pass from Jeff O'Neill, who got his career-high 40th point in his fifth NHL season.
Less than six minutes later, Vernon allowed a bad goal as he tried to kick out a soft shot by Andrei Kovalenko that slipped under his skates and into the net. Rod Brind'Amour assisted for his first point in five games since being acquired from Philadelphia for Keith Primeau.
Carolina's Sean Hill, the Hurricanes' top scoring defenseman, returned to the lineup after missing 18 games with a groin injury.
FLORIDA PANTHERS VS. CAROLINA HURRICANES
FEBRUARY 1, 2000
CAROLINA HEAD COACH PAUL MAURICE:
On the first period and the team’s focus:
“There were two flurries, one early by them and then one at the very end. We came in and charged a little bit better and focused and played hard. We didn’t do that for a while in the second period. Some of that was that they turned it up and when you’re down two you can open your game up and that caused us some problems. There were a couple guys that laid off checks that they should have made and that was the difference in the two goals.”
On how having Francis and Hill back helped:
“The top two lines played great. Sean Hill’s a fine defenseman. Just simple things – making passes, moving the puck. The little things so you don’t spend as much time in your own end.”
“He still has a problem that he’s going to have to play through. The doctors have told him it’s just not going to get a whole lot better. So if you can handle the pain and it doesn’t get worse, you’re going to be alright. He’s going to get special medical rehab treatment for the rest of the year. He won’t practice a whole lot. He’s going to spend a lot of time trying to strengthen the area off-ice. Basically, approach these last 29 games as a playoff push, keep him ready to play.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS COACH TERRY MURRAY:
On the game:
“Carolina came at us. They had their legs going really good. They had a lot of speed coming at us. We were not skating, we weren’t able to skate with them in the first period. They really took it to us shift after shift in the first 20 minutes. So to get back and tie it up, it was nice but we didn’t grab that opportunity that was there. It was opportunities that they created through hard work and through the speed that they had to give themselves the lead again.”
On playing against speed:
“The speed that Edmonton showed, the speed that Carolina showed in the first period is something that we didn’t handle well tonight or against Edmonton. The bottom line for us is getting our speed going again. We’re not skating anywhere near the way we were. We’re at a low point in the first half of the season right now. It is something that happens in a long season and we just have to work our way through it.”
On the Svehla bench minor:
“The bench minor is someone yelling from the bench to the official who is standing right there in front of the bench. They heard it and called it right away. It’s a two minute bench minor. So anyone can serve that penalty and the referee came over and took a player off the bench. That’s not the way it is. He said we refused to send someone to the bench. That is a lie. We did not refuse to send anybody to the bench. He came over and saw the player. He asked the question, ‘Did you say that?’ And the player said yes so he sent him to the penalty box. That is not the way it is. You’re not allowed to do that. It’s my decision to send who I want to send, and he takes one of my top defensemen and now I have to kill off a penalty to the penalty box and that is the wrong call. And he lied and said that we refused to send a player to the bench.”
-----------------------------Florida 0 2 0--2Carolina 2 2 0--4-----------------------------FIRST PERIOD -- Scoring: 1, Carolina, Francis 14 (Oneill, Roberts),8:11. 2, Carolina, Kovalenko 11 (Brind'amour), 14:06. Penalties: Simpson,Fla (high sticking), 20:00.SECOND PERIOD -- Scoring: 3, Florida, Parrish 19 (Hedican), 12:20. 4,Florida, Kozlov 13 (unassisted), 14:10. 5, Carolina, Kapanen 20(Kovalenko, Halko), 14:37. 6, Carolina, T Westlund 4 (Gelinas), 16:29.Penalties: J Daniels, Car (kneeing), 7:31; Mellanby, Fla (roughing), 7:43;Wesley, Car (roughing), 7:43; R Svehla, Fla (unsportsmanlike conduct),18:06.THIRD PERIOD -- Scoring: None. Penalties: Oneill, Car (interference),8:48; Parrish, Fla (high sticking), 9:14; Karpa, Car (high sticking),9:14; Florida bench, served by Worrell (too many men on the ice), 10:06.Shots on goal:---------------------------------Florida 5 11 12--28Carolina 11 9 6--26---------------------------------
Power-play Conversions: Fla - 0 of 2, Car - 0 of 3. Goalies: Florida,Vernon (26 shots, 22 saves; record: 13-10-1). Carolina, Irbe (28, 26;record: 18-19-7). A: 8,482. Referees: P Devorski, Maguire. Linesmen:Broseker, S Provost.