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'Canes move into fifth in East

by Brian Compton
Just like that, the Carolina Hurricanes are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Ray Whitney scored 1:37 into overtime on Monday night, as the 'Canes jumped ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings with a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.
The victory was Carolina's fourth straight in a span of just six days. The Hurricanes are also 8-1-2 in their last 11 games. Whitney scored his 24th goal of the season when he one-timed a cross-ice feed from Joni Pitkanen from inside the left circle past Tomas Vokoun.
''It certainly wasn't a game you'd try to sell a new market on, that's for sure,'' Whitney said. ''We took the skill out of it. We're proud of what we did. Obviously the point helps them, but the two points certainly helps us.''
Tuomo Ruutu and Patrick Eaves also scored for Carolina, which held a 2-1 lead until former Hurricanes forward Cory Stillman tied the game for Florida with 4:05 left in regulation. The overtime loss allowed the Panthers to move into a tie for eighth place in the East with 81 points apiece.
''It's better than nothing,'' said Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who also scored on Monday.
''It's good that we battled back, but we put ourselves in that position. I guess we'll take anything, but the extra point would have been good.''
Cam Ward was solid in his 22nd consecutive start for the Hurricanes, as he finished with 37 saves. Ward stopped all 14 shots he faced in the second period, allowing Carolina to grab a 2-1 lead when Eaves scored at 19:47.
''You had your best players at the end, Cam Ward and Ray Whitney, (come through),'' Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. ''What a play for (Whitney). A win on the road against a team that works its butt off every night, we're real happy with it.''
Stillman erased a 2-1 deficit late in the third period during a two-man advantage. After Ward deflected Nathan Horton's pass from the side of the net, Stillman collected the loose puck and fired it past the Carolina goaltender for his 14th goal of the season.

''We got rewarded for working hard,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. ''We played hard tonight right from the first period through to the end.''

Bouwmeester broke a scoreless tie 8:30 into the game, when he took a pass from Stillman and ripped a low wrist shot past Ward for his 14th goal of the season and Florida's League-leading 44th tally by a defenseman.

But Ruutu tied things up with a power-play goal just over five minutes later, when he collected Anton Babchuk's rebound and flipped it over Vokoun to make it 1-1. It was Ruutu's 23rd goal of the season.
''We're winning some games the ugly way, we're winning some pretty games,'' Whitney said. We're winning in a bunch of different fashions.''
Eaves put Carolina back in front when he took a pass from Rod Brind'Amour, skated around defenseman Karlis Skrastins and lost control of the puck as he cut to the front of the net. However, it ended up going off Eaves' left skate and off the leg of the sprawling Vokoun before trickling in. It was his sixth goal of the season.

The goal irked DeBoer, who felt the Hurricanes erred on a line change.

''I think it could have been either too many men or offside,'' DeBoer said. ''We had them for both. Take your choice. That happens. We got a few of those go our way over the month. That's something you have to deal with.

''I think we played hard, we played well,'' he added. ''We played a good hockey game. Ward made some big saves for them at critical times. It was a hard-fought point. Maybe we deserved better, but that's the way it goes this time of year.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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