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Matthias pushes Panthers to win against Hurricanes

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Florida Panthers forward Shawn Matthias spent Tuesday sleeping -- almost all of Tuesday.

Knocked out with flu symptoms, the hard-working center didn't take the morning skate, and he wasn't awake long enough to consider the possibility of playing against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I slept the entire day, that's all I really did," Matthias said. "I went home, slept, ate, slept and came to the rink."

He can add one thing to that sequence: scored the goal that put the game out of reach.

Matthias recovered well enough to supply the last of three goals in the middle of the third period, breaking open a scoreless game on the way to a 4-1 Panthers win against the Hurricanes.

The victory halted a six-game winless streak (0-5-1) that left the Panthers struggling to salvage many positives from the season.

"I didn't want to miss any games," said Matthias, who has six goals in his past 10 games. "I wanted to play and help get us out of this. I might be tired now, but I'm happy."

The teams traded chances in the first period, relying on the goaltenders to keep the game scoreless. Florida's Jacob Markstrom stopped 33 shots overall for the win, and Carolina's Dan Ellis was called on for 40 saves.

The Hurricanes, playing back-to-back after losing 2-1 at the New York Rangers Monday night, had a golden opportunity to take control of the game in the second period. Florida forward Scottie Upshall was whistled for a high-sticking double minor. But the Hurricanes squandered the opportunity, generating one shot on the power play. The best scoring chance came shorthanded when Florida's Marcel Goc was thwarted on a breakaway by Ellis.

The Carolina power play has been an issue recently, sinking to 29th in the NHL with a 12.6 percent conversion rate. On a night when the weary Hurricanes could have gotten the upper hand with four minutes of advantage time, there were no solutions in sight.

"I think it's just mental," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "Our work ethic 5-on-5 is great. We have the skill level, the power play should work. We've tried different players in different positions, but at the end of the day, you've just got to let it ride out."

Tomas Fleischmann put Florida on the board at 7:39 of the third period. Tomas Kopecky picked off a pass from Hurricanes defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti near the goal line and fed it to Fleischmann for his sixth goal of the season.

"You could tell the team was playing better and better each period," Fleischmann said. "When it was 0-0 (after two periods) our goalie was playing really well and we felt pretty good about our game. You could tell [the Hurricanes] were getting tired minute by minute. We just kept going, forechecking -- that's what got us the first goal. I would say we played better than them and were better physically."

A few minutes later, the Panthers had an ideal scenario to close out the game. Just 25 seconds after Carolina defenseman Jamie McBain took a slashing penalty, Jay Harrison joined him in the box for chipping the puck over the glass.

Florida quickly extended the lead to 2-0 with the 5-on-3 advantage when Goc redirected Filip Kuba's pass from the point. The Panthers took advantage of the remaining 5-on-4, with Matthias cleaning up the rebound of Kuba's shot from the point.

"That really timely power play stepped up in the third," said Markstrom, whose shutout bid was spoiled by Jordan Staal's goal with less than four minutes remaining. "It could be frustrating since we haven't won many games, coming into the third period 0-0. But it was a great period and the puck finally bounced our way."

The win lifted the Panthers to 8-16-6, still far from the Stanley Cup Playoff picture, particularly in the 48-game season. But starting a five-game road trip with a win gives the team something positive to focus on.

"It hurts losing six in a row, but now we've got to take that one win, turn it into two and keep it rolling," Matthias said. "We've got to have a good road trip here."

Florida coach Kevin Dineen said, "I think this is exactly what we are looking for: to get out on the road. We have a lot of injured guys around. I don't think that's fun for anybody. Those guys really want to be in the lineup. But you get out on the road and we've got our guys that are playing, and we'll go out and get ready for what is in front of us."

After a solid first half of the season that put the Hurricanes in command of the Southeast Division, the team is 0-3-1 in its past four, scoring five goals. Carolina might face a little more adversity in the coming days after losing defenseman Justin Faulk in the second period. He left the game after a check into the end boards and did not return.

"No one said it was going to be easy," Muller said. "This is going to be a test for our guys. Every game is going to be a challenge and a new experience. I thought they fought right to the end. We've just got to get different results."

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