This was the kind of performance Carolina coach Paul Maurice had been awaiting.
After two losses and a shaky shootout win, the Hurricanes evened their record at 2-2-0 with their first dominant effort of the season, a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers
on Friday night.
Tom Kostopoulos, Tuomo Ruutu
and Jussi Jokinen
scored in a 10:05 span of the first period, and Ray Whitney added a goal in the second against Tomas Vokoun, who was victimized by numerous breakdowns and mistakes in front of him. Matt Cullen sent Vokoun to the bench with a goal 92 seconds into the third.
In all, 12 Hurricanes hit the scoresheet with a goal or an assist.
"You go three games and when people you expect to score don’t they feel it, and they feel it right away," Maurice said. "Hopefully those guys are just a little more confident with the puck now."
made 26 saves for the 'Canes, who visit Tampa Bay on Saturday, while Florida hosts New Jersey in its home opener.
"Cam has been good and he was good again," Cullen said. "He was probably the difference. It was a pretty even game early and he made some big saves for us. The way he’s playing is what we need and I know he expects that from himself."
It was the 17th win in the last 25 games against Southeast Division opponents for the Hurricanes.
"We know how important these games are because we would like to win the division," Cullen said. "It certainly is a goal of ours. We definitely gear up for them."
The Panthers hadn't played since Saturday, when they lost 4-0 to Chicago in the second of two games of 2009 Compuware/NHL Premiere-Helsinki -- and during the first period, they looked like team that was a little rusty.
Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason took the game's first penalty, going off for interference at 6:41, but it was the Hurricanes who scored the game's first goal. As Panthers' captain Bryan McCabe started up ice, he was stripped by Tom Kostopoulos. His first shot was stopped by Vokoun, but he nudged the rebound into the net at 7:00 for the Hurricanes' first shorthanded goal of the season.
"That was just good pre-game video by our coaches," Kostopoulos said. "They said to pressure a certain way and you may get a turnover. I was surprised and I think my eyes were pretty big there, but it was good the team got off to a good start and it was good for our confidence."
Carolina made it 2-0 at 9:40 when Sergei Samsonov backhanded a breakout pass from his own zone that found Ruutu just before the red line. Ruutu went in alone and beat Vokoun with a high wrist shot.
Jokinen gave Carolina a three-goal lead at 17:05, capitalizing on some miscommunication behind the Florida net. When neither Vokoun nor defenseman Dmitri Kulikov played a dump-in behind the net cleanly, Jokinen grabbed the puck and stuffed it inside the goaltender's right post before Vokoun could react.
Florida failed on a second power play when Andrew Alberts was called for roughing and ended the period down three goals after being outshot 16-5.
"Hats off to Carolina, they played a great first period, and the game was over in the first 20 minutes. That was the story of the game," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "We turned pucks over and made mental mistakes, and they capitalized."
The Panthers had a chance to get back in the game early in the second period when penalties to Alberts and Cullen gave them 3:30 of power-play time, including 40 seconds with a two-man advantage. But not until Ward had to make a good kick save on Nathan Horton in the final seconds of Cullen's penalty did Florida get a good scoring opportunity.
Whitney got his first goal of the season and made it 4-0 at 13:30 on another Florida breakdown. Niclas Wallin's pass from the left boards near the red line caught Whitney in stride as he was splitting the defense at the blue line. Whitney raced in, got Vokoun to move and slid a wrist shot past him.
Florida finally got on the board at 16:41 on one of its few flurries. Ward made a pair of stops but was helpless when Shawn Matthias
grabbed a second rebound and wristed it into a half-empty net.
That turned out to be the only one of the Panthers' 17 second-period shots to get past the former Conn Smythe winner, who stood tall in the final minute of the period as Florida generated sustained pressure.
Cullen killed any momentum the Panthers may have had when he blasted a slapper from the top of the left circle that caught the far post and went in at 1:32 of the third period. That was the end of the night for Vokoun, who was replaced by rookie Alexander Salak, making his NHL debut.
Rod Brind'Amour got his first of the season with 4:46 remaining, beating Salak from inside the left circle with a slap shot past the rookie's glove, and Jay Harrison
fired a wrister from above the left circle into the top corner 19 seconds later. Michael Frolik added a consolation goal for Florida with 2:12 to play.
--John Kreiser, NHL.com
Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report