RALEIGH (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes finally found their way to the top of the Southeast Division, and they did it with their first win of the season against a divisional opponent.
Jussi Jokinen scored twice and added an assist, and Riley Nash netted his first goal as part of a three-point night in the Hurricanes’ 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
The long-awaited win over a division rival put the Hurricanes alone on top of the Southeast.
“If you’re going to be on top of your division, you have to beat the teams in your division,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “We haven’t had success on that part of it this year. I think our guys knew that this is a big weekend and the importance of it. I think it showed in their play.”
Coming into the game, Carolina was 0-5 against its Southeast rivals and 10-3-1 against the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Eric Staal also had two goals for the Hurricanes, Jiri Tlutsy scored his 10th in 11 games, and Alexander Semin had three assists.
Cam Ward made 22 saves for the Hurricanes, who won their second straight at home. Carolina had lost six of seven against the Panthers.
“We wanted to make a kind of statement game that these are the teams we need to beat to make the playoffs,” Jokinen said.
Filip Kuba and Shawn Matthias scored for the Panthers, who have only two wins in 11 games.
Florida goalie Jose Theodore left the game 2:22 into the first period after he appeared to injure his right leg. Scott Clemmensen replaced him and made 27 saves.
Theodore was hurt during a 2-on-1 rush by the Hurricanes. He crumpled to the ice after he kicked out his right pad to stop Jokinen. The Panthers said Theodore, who struggled with knee trouble much of last season, sustained an undisclosed lower body injury.
“It’s going to be a while,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. “He was pretty sore on the ice, and it wasn’t much better off (it).”
Florida also lost Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) and Scottie Upshall (lower body) during the game.
“You can blame it on injuries,” Dineen said. “To me, that’s the ultimate cop-out We were not prepared to play this game. We had a big divisional game against our first-place team — we could have reeled them in. It looked like from the drop of the puck we weren’t prepared.”
Carolina got Joni Pitkanen back in the lineup Saturday after he missed seven games because of a lower body injury. But he left the game after just one period and didn’t return.
The Hurricanes jumped on Clemmensen about 4 minutes after Theodore’s injury, scoring three goals in 3:05.
Jokinen got things started with a quick wrist shot from the left circle that beat Clemmensen over his glove hand.
A little more than 2 minutes later, Semin found Tlutsy in the high slot for a wrist shot that caromed in off the post.
Jokinen added his second goal less than a minute later when Nash found him wide open in the slot. Jokinen’s wrist shot slipped through Clemmensen’s pads.
Matthias got Florida back within two goals before the end of the period, but Nash’s first career goal built Carolina’s lead back to three early in the second. Nash finished off a pass from Patrick Dwyer on a 2-on-1 break to make it 4-1.
Staal scored the Hurricanes’ final two goals off passes from Semin.
The teams will meet again on Sunday night in Florida.
“Any time you can beat a divisional opponent it’s huge,” Faulk said. “It was nice to get our first divisional win this year, and it came at a good time.”
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