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'Canes Sink Cats 5-2

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Erik Cole and Eric Staal each had two goals to help the Carolina Hurricanes tie a franchise record for home victories by beating the Florida Panthers 5-2 Friday night.

Craig Adams also scored for the Hurricanes, who improved to an NHL-best 26-5-1 at home. That equaled the previous mark set 19 years ago when the team played in Hartford, but they'll have to wait nearly two weeks to break it.

Nine of Carolina's next 10 games are in the road, a stretch that begins Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

Bret Hedican and Cory Stillman each finished with two assists.

Florida lost for the second time in three games and remained well outside the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. With the trade deadline less than a week away, a decision will have to be made on high-priced center Olli Jokinen.

Chris Gratton and Serge Payer scored for the Panthers.

Staal deflected in a shot by Hedican - an instant after Cole also got his stick on it - to put Carolina ahead early in the first period. Cole made it 2-0 on a beautifully executed 3-on-1 less than 4 minutes into the second.

He started it off by feeding the puck in the middle to Stillman, and it quickly went to Hedican before coming back to Cole. A quick shot got past Roberto Luongo.

Gratton cut the margin to one about 60 seconds later with a power-play goal. After Adams increased it again, Payer made it 3-2 with a wraparound that narrowly got through Gerber's pads.

Cole got his second during a late man-advantage, and Staal added an empty-netter in the final minute.

Notes: The announced crowd of 18,094 was just short of a sellout, which would have been Carolina's third in four games. ... Florida C Joe Nieuwendyk went to the locker room with an apparent injury early in the second period, but later returned. ... Before the game, the Hurricanes assigned D Anton Babchuk to Lowell of the AHL.

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