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Late goal ruins Muller's debut with Carolina

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The transition in Carolina from Paul Maurice to Kirk Muller included a good will gesture from the outgoing coach. On a white board in the dressing room, Maurice wrote: "Kirk, Good luck. Great bunch of guys. The staff is A-1. Paul Maurice."

But on Tuesday night, Muller saw first-hand that there is plenty of work to be done.

Jose Theodore stopped 26 shots and earned his 10th victory of the season to lead the Florida Panthers to a 3-1 win at RBC Center, spoiling Muller's debut as Hurricanes coach.

Muller arrived in Carolina on Monday afternoon, just hours after Maurice was relieved of his coaching duties. The Hurricanes didn't respond appropriately Tuesday night, as their 29th-ranked power play managed just three shots in four opportunities.

"We gotta work on it," said Muller. "I'm positive that there are lots of things that we can do to work on it and change it. The tough thing tonight was our 5-on-5 was going so well, but our power play didn't generate any momentum for us."

Theodore was especially sharp early in the game, as his Panthers were outshot 9-2 in the opening period. Theodore stopped all nine of those shots to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes.

"If I'm a player for a new coach, I'm going to come out with the kind of jump they did," said Florida coach Kevin Dineen, himself a rookie bench boss this season. "That one wasn't our finest effort, it wasn't our worst effort. It was one of those games where you find a way. It took a long time to put that one to rest."

"We knew they were going to push the first half of the game," Theodore said. "I remember looking up and the shots were 15-3 for them, but we were up 1-0. The guys did a good job of not panicking and got a huge goal in the third."

Carolina dropped to 8-14-4 with the loss. For the moment, nothing is easing the burden on the Hurricanes players.

"It was a clear message from Kirk that it was a clean slate for everyone no matter than situation you were in," said defenseman Bryan Allen. "It was a new opportunity. We played a good team game and we played hard, and the hard thing to accept after a game like tonight is we put the effort in and we didn't get the results. I feel like we keep saying that."

The deciding goal came with 3:19 remaining in the game, as Shawn Matthias scored on the short side against Carolina netminder Cam Ward, who was trying to close down the right post.

"I was fired up," said Matthias, who also added the empty-net goal. "I wanted to celebrate. It felt good."

The game had a slow start, particularly for Florida. The Panthers managed just two shots in the first period and did not register their third until five minutes had elapsed in the second.

Despite the sluggish start, Florida scored the first goal of the game midway through the second period. After killing off three Carolina power plays, the Panthers needed just 17 seconds to cash in on their first try with the man advantage. With Kris Versteeg screening Ward in front of the net, Tomas Fleischmann wired a shot under the crossbar.

"I would give credit to everyone on the ice," said Fleischmann, whose 24 points ranks second on Florida to Versteeg's 27. "We talked about it before the game started. That play was kind of set up."

Jeff Skinner tied the game with a hard-working goal just over a minute later. The Hurricanes' leading scorer chased down an errant shot in the corner, sent the puck to Eric Staal behind the net, then finished on the forehand after taking a centering pass. It was Skinner's 10th goal of the season, building his team lead in points to 22.

By Dineen's measure, Florida's penalty kill made a difference.

"We've shown great discipline (this season)," he said. "Tonight was one of the few nights where our penalty kill had to be better than our power play."

The Panthers lost defenseman Dmitry Kulikov late in the second period when he suffered a laceration above his skate. Dineen described it as a deep gash and indicated Kulikov would be re-evaluated.
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