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Hurricanes sweep Panthers amid goalie drama

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The weekend home-and-home series between the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers proved a tough one on goaltenders. It also was very productive for the Hurricanes.

Justin Faulk and Alexander Semin scored a minute apart late in the first period and the Hurricanes held on to complete the weekend sweep, winning 3-2 at BB&T Center on Sunday.

"We knew the importance of it," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "The guys played six really strong periods. We've got a lot of positive things in our game right now."

Cam Ward started a second consecutive game in net for Carolina but had to leave midway through the second period because of a leg injury. On Monday, the Hurricanes revealed Ward suffered a third-degree MCL sprain that will sideline him for 6-8 weeks.

He was replaced by Dan Ellis, who had been scratched from his scheduled start due to illness. Ellis stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced, including 14 of 15 in the third period.

"It's tough," Ellis said. "You end up missing a game because you're sick and stuff like that. If I maybe would have just found a way to play through it or something, maybe it could have prevented an accident like that. Obviously you've got to take some responsibility for that and take that on your shoulders. It kind of [stinks] to lose such a good goaltender, such a big piece to our team and such a good person. But at least we got the win."

With Florida's Jose Theodore on injured reserve after sustaining a right-leg injury Saturday, Scott Clemmensen got the start for the Panthers. But his backup for the first 16 minutes was goaltending coach Robb Tallas, who had to suit up as an emergency fill-in after Jacob Markstrom's equipment didn't arrive with him on his flight from San Antonio after his call-up.

After giving up six goals in relief of Theodore on Saturday, Clemmensen made 21 saves Sunday and had to endure sporadic chants of "We Want Markstrom!" from the home fans.

In addition to Theodore, the Panthers were without two players injured Saturday: forward Scottie Upshall (lower body) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who was placed on injured reserve Sunday with an upper-body injury.

Jordan Staal had the other goal for the Hurricanes, who extended their lead over the Winnipeg Jets atop the Southeast Division to four points.

The Hurricanes went into the weekend with an 0-5-0 record against division opponents, including a 5-1 loss against the Panthers in the season opener Jan. 19 at BB&T Center.

"Considering our record against the Southeast coming into this wasn't very good, we knew we needed to get some points to get some separation and to really get ahead in the game," Staal said. "It was a big weekend. A lot of guys chipped in to help us win this one."

Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau had his team-leading ninth and 10th goals for the Panthers, who lost for the 10th time in 12 games (2-6-4). Peter Mueller had an assist on each.

It was another strong outing for Florida's "Kid Line," which includes rookie center Drew Shore.

"As those guys come out you have such a high compete level, you just feel the enthusiasm, and they are working every single shift," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's a big difference-maker. Along with that, they are all skilled players and they all have the ability to make quality plays. They are a positive for us right now, but I don't think it's any fun for them or us until we figure out a way to work for a full two points."

Florida (6-11-5), coming off the first division title in franchise history, sits in last place in the Eastern Conference with 17 points.

The Hurricanes, who had led once after the first period in their first 19 games, made it two in a row Sunday night.

"We've been having some tough starts lately," Muller said. "We've been playing a lot behind in these games recently. To get the leads has been nice. Our guys, tribute to them, they played six solid periods, and getting off to a good start against a team that's given us trouble before really gave us some confidence."

Carolina this weekend recorded more victories against Florida than it managed all of last season when the Panthers took five of six meetings.

Avoiding penalties was a big factor in Carolina's success. After not having to kill a single penalty Saturday, the Hurricanes were shorthanded once Sunday.

"When we're moving our feet and playing our game, we're not taking many penalties," Staal said. "That's what our game is and that's how we played the last two games."

After the game remained scoreless during Tallas' time on the Florida bench, Faulk opened the scoring at 18:08 when he one-timed a Panthers clearing attempt at the point and took advantage of traffic in front of Clemmensen.

Exactly a minute later, Semin beat Clemmensen with a backhand after getting behind Panthers defensemen Brian Campbell and Erik Gudbranson and taking a nifty feed from Jiri Tlusty.

"There were breakdowns; obviously there were some mistakes there," Campbell said. "The coverage wasn't there, so it's just live and learn.

"It's things we need to avoid to be a better team. Periods are 20 minutes and we need to finish it out."

The quick goals were a repeat of Saturday night when the Hurricanes scored twice in a span of 49 seconds late in the first period to turn a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 cushion.

This time, Carolina had to wait until 6:10 of the second to make it 3-0, when Staal got to the front of the net and redirected a pass from Jeff Skinner.

Ward left the game at 8:56 of the period, less than a minute after Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo slid into him trying to defend Jack Skille's rush to the net.

Despite staying in the game, Ward seemed to favor his left leg. After he prepared to stop a shot from the point, he went down when the puck was deflected away and he tried to quickly change direction.

Ward stopped all 15 shots he faced.

"Once something like that happens, you just have to dig deep and do whatever it takes in order to go in there and replace him," Ellis said. "It's not like Cam had a bad start or something like that and you went in in relief. You went in because the guy was taking your spot in the lineup for you and doing you a favor, so you have to return the favor and try to win him the game."

Huberdeau, who was named NHL Rookie of the Month for February, beat Ellis at 16:05 of the second period when he tapped in a feed from Mueller from the boards near the top of the circle and across the net.

Ellis came up with some big saves in the third period, including stopping defenseman Colby Robak on a 2-on-1 and stopping Huberdeau's shot from the slot.

Huberdeau beat Ellis again with 54.6 seconds left off another great cross-ice feed from Mueller.

"We battled hard," Huberdeau said. "We played better than [Saturday night], that's for sure. But we needed to get those two points; that's the most important thing."

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