RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -John Grahame has been forced into a starting role in the middle of a playoff race. He's up for the challenge.
"There's no point in being timid or being afraid," the Carolina Hurricanes goalie said. "You just have to go out there and be confident and strut your stuff, so speak."
Grahame made 26 saves to help lead the Hurricanes to a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. He's playing after a knee injury sidelined starter Cam Ward, last year's Conn Smythe winner.
"Johnny Grahame, you can't say enough about him coming into obviously a pressure situation," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said.
Ward was injured in the Hurricanes' 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers last Sunday. A skate blade cut Ward's knee and required 11 stitches, likely keeping Ward out at least two more games.
If Grahame repeats his performance from Tuesday, that won't be a problem.
Grahame stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period to hold up the power-play goal by Scott Walker with 15.3 seconds left in the second period that broke a 1-1 tie.
Grahame's best saves came during a Panthers' power-play in the second period. He stopped Olli Jokinen, Florida's leading scorer, on two attempts from the slot - the second with his shoulder with 13:17 left in the period.
"Your best penalty killer is your goalie," Brind'Amour said. "When he makes those saves, it makes it real easy."
The Hurricanes improved to 3-1-1 in their past five games to move two points ahead of the New York Rangers for eighth place. They scored their last two goals with their special teams.
Walker's goal, a rebound that squirted past Florida goalie Ed Belfour, was just Carolina's second power-play goal in 43 opportunities.
"The power-play goal wasn't really pretty, but at this point we'll take anything," said Walker, who has 20 goals.
While the Hurricanes' power-play has struggled, the penalty kill has not been a problem. After the Panthers went 0-for-5, the Hurricanes have allowed only power-play goal in 43 opportunities.
"Special teams were the difference," Jokinen said. "They got one on the power play and one short-handed. It shouldn't happen."
Brind'Amour scored short-handed on an odd-man break with 5:18 left in the game.
Grahame was more impressed with his teammates' effort than his own play. Florida's only goal came after a puck was errantly kept in the Carolina zone by a linesman. The loose puck stopped for Jozef Stumpel, who skated in for an unassisted goal at 11:21 in the second period.
"We played with a purpose tonight," said Grahame, who improved to 8-11-2 in his first season with Carolina. "It was little bit of controlled craziness. We really showed what we were capable of."
Notes: Florida is winless in its last 11 games at the RBC Center, dating to Dec. 6, 2002. ... Florida defenseman Mike Van Ryn left with 1:32 left in the first period after accidentally getting hit above the eye by the stick of Carolina's Trevor Letowski. Van Ryn received 20 stitches, but returned midway through the second period. ... The Hurricanes improved to 21-0-2 when leading after the first period. ... Walker's goal, his 20th, gives Carolina six players with at least 20 goals. Buffalo is the only other NHL team with as many.