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Newcomers Pitkanen and LaCouture lead Canes past Florida 6-4

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RALEIGH, N.C. - Joni Pitkanen and Dan LaCouture scored in their Carolina debut Friday night and the Hurricanes beat the Florida Panthers 6-4 in the season opener for both teams.

Rod Brind'Amour, Tuomu Ruutu and Ray Whitney scored, Matt Cullen added an empty-net goal and Tim Gleason and Frantisek Kaberle had two assists apiece to help Carolina rally from an early two-goal deficit.

Nathan Horton made it a one-goal game with 8:29 left by beating Carolina's Cam Ward with a wrist shot. Ward stopped the final four shots he faced, and Cullen's goal with 26.4 seconds left sealed the Hurricanes' first season-opening victory at home since 2001.

Radek Dvorak, David Booth and former Hurricane Cory Stillman also scored for Florida, which lost Pete DeBoer's coaching debut.

Ward finished with 29 saves, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 18 shots for the Panthers.

Pitkanen, acquired from Edmonton in July for fan favourite Erik Cole, gave Carolina the lead for good with about five minutes left in the second when he took a feed from Gleason in the left circle and snapped the puck past Vokoun to make it 4-3. LaCouture, a 31-year-old veteran who played in Switzerland last year and made the team as an unsigned free agent, made it a two-goal game early in the third with a wrist shot.

Neither of them was around for Carolina's finale in April, when the Panthers' 4-1 victory - their first in Raleigh since 2002 - knocked the Hurricanes out of the Southeast Division lead and wound up keeping them out of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Florida, playing its first game since dealing scoring leader Olli Jokinen to Phoenix, threatened to make it two straight at the RBC Center by jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Booth and Stillman, the last coming with a two-man advantage.

Carolina then reeled off three straight goals over the next 17 minutes: Ruutu redirected Dennis Seidenberg's hard blast past Vokoun and Whitney beat him with a wrist shot from the slot in the first, and Brind'Amour put Carolina up midway through the second by tapping a loose puck past the Florida goalie. Seven minutes later, Dvorak tied it at 3 with a high wrist shot.

Notes: C Brandon Sutter made his Carolina debut. The Hurricanes' first-round draft pick in 2007 is the son of former NHL centre Brent Sutter and the nephew of Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter. ... Florida D Bryan McCabe left midway through the second with an apparent left leg injury. He twisted as he collided with Seidenberg into the boards. ... The Panthers have lost consecutive openers since winning three in a row from 2003-06. ... Whitney's goal was his 200th point with the Hurricanes. ... U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., rang the new "Hurricanes Warning Siren" during the team's pre-game entrance.

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