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Montoya preserves Panthers' shutout of Hurricanes

by Cristina Ledra

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Carolina Hurricanes tested Florida Panthers goaltender Al Montoya early and often when he replaced injured Roberto Luongo in the second period Wednesday. But Montoya preserved the shutout Luongo started in a 1-0 win at BB&T Center.

Montoya, in his sixth game this season, made 22 saves in the final 29:38, and center Nick Bjugstad scored his eighth goal of the season 21 seconds into the game.

"[Luongo’s] been so good for us, it’s tough to see a guy go down with an injury like that, but hopefully it’s minor," Montoya said. "For me it was just about believing in my game. I’ve been working hard with the goalie coach (Robb Tallas). It’s just knowing what I can do and contributing when I get the chance."

Luongo left the game 10:22 into the second period with an upper-body injury. He did not appear to be injured on a specific play but skated to the Panthers bench during a timeout and spoke with coaches before going into the locker room.

Florida coach Gerard Gallant said after the game Luongo’s injury wasn’t serious, based on what the trainers told him, though they would know more about the extent on Thursday.

Luongo made 11 saves. At 13:53 of the second period, he stretched to make a glove save on Hurricanes center Victor Rask. Gallant said Luongo sustained the injury on a poke check before that play.

Montoya entered the game with the Hurricanes about to start a power play after a slashing call on Panthers left wing Shawn Thornton.

"It’s no secret that when a goalie comes in, you want to pepper him," Montoya said. "You want to see what he’s got and they did that. Luckily I was able to answer the bell tonight. I felt confident and I was moving strong, and when I wasn’t there, the guys were there for me, so it trickled down all the way through."

The Panthers (8-6-6) started strong, but as the game wore on, the Hurricanes were getting more opportunities to score. Gallant said the eroding effort was reminiscent of Florida’s flat performance in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

"The first period was excellent and I thought we did exactly what we wanted to do," Gallant said. "We were forechecking hard, we were aggressive, and most of the second I thought we played pretty well too. It was a pretty even second period, and then we got away from the things we were doing and just sitting there watching instead of playing again, and they took it to us pretty good."

Carolina goalie Cam Ward made 25 of his 27 saves after giving up the quick goal to Bjugstad.

"I think we were well aware we’ve been bad in the first [period]," Ward said. "We have defensemen who can get up in the play, and when you’re trailing, they’re going to do that more and more. Unfortunately, we’ve been on the bad break of the one-goal games. We can’t afford to have a lackluster first period like that."

Bjugstad started the play battling for the puck with Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk to Ward’s right. Faulk shot the puck behind the net, but Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau put it back in front of Ward, where center Brandon Pirri redirected the puck to Bjugstad.

"The puck’s just going in for me," said Bjugstad, who has six goals in his past six games. "Just got to continue to play."

The Hurricanes outshot the Panthers 17-5 in the third period. Carolina (6-12-3) has lost six of its past seven and has the worst road record in the NHL (2-9-2).

"Obviously it’s been a trend through 21 games," Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "We’ve come out on the wrong side of the first 10 minutes more often than not. We were vastly improved from there but could not get any goals."

Carolina coach Bill Peters maintained that regardless of who the goaltender is, the Hurricanes have to get better scoring opportunities.

"I think it’s more of what we did or didn’t do rather than the goaltender," Peters said. "If you go back to our last four or five games, we’ve got to make it harder on the goaltender. There’s some quantity in our shots, but there needs to be more quality. Second, we need to go upstairs, and we’ve got to get in the goalies’ eyes and make it tougher on them."

The shutout was the Panthers’ first since Oct. 7, when they defeated the Buffalo Sabres 1-0. Florida played without left wing Scottie Upshall, who is expected to miss a week with an ankle injury.

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