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RALEIGH, N.C. (The Sports Xchange) – Defenseman Willie Mitchell of the Florida Panthers knows he isn’t going to score many goals, so he wants to make sure what he calls his three to five goals each season are ones that matter.
That was the case Friday night.
Mitchell’s first goal of the season broke a scoreless tie in the third period and the Panthers went on to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 at PNC Arena.
“If you don’t score many, you want to make sure they’re big ones,” Mitchell said. “I don’t score a ton.”
Goalie Roberto Luongo stopped 24 shots, recording his 70th career shutout and his second against Carolina.
Right winger Reilly Smith’s empty-net goal came with 21 seconds to play, giving him a team-leading 11 goals for the season.
Mitchell’s tally was the focal point of the postgame because he’s not prone to score often.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to go that long and not get one,” Mitchell said. “Then it’s a game winner.”
The Panthers (17-12-4) are 8-2-0 in their last 10 road games and won their third in a row overall.
Goalie Cam Ward made 16 saves for the Hurricanes (12-15-5).
Mitchell hadn’t scored since last April 2, also against Carolina. He has played in all 33 Florida games this season.
Centers Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov assisted on the goal. Mitchell received a pass from Huberdeau and seemed to surprise Ward with the shot just 4:09 into the third period.
“I just passed him the puck and he was wide open,” Huberdeau said. “You just want to make the play.”
Mitchell, who delivered the goal from between the right circle and the crease, said he should have scored earlier in the season.
“I’ve had a lot of those (chances) this year,” he said. “I just haven’t capitalized.”
Ward was otherwise mostly sharp.
“You can’t fault Cam on that one,” Carolina center Eric Staal said. “It was a backdoor play.”
It was Florida’s second shutout of the season. Luongo blanked Tampa Bay on Nov. 16.
“We’re just focusing on wins now,” Luongo said. “We’re really starting to play well as a five-man unit on the ice.”
There wasn’t much offense generated throughout the game.
“I don’t mind it,” Luongo said. “We’re not going to score five goals every night. … Now things are going well as a group. We want to keep it going.”
Carolina pulled Ward for a sixth attacker with more than two minutes remaining and still couldn’t convert.
“Not a lot of real Grade-A looks,” Staal said of the game in general. “We just didn’t get the bounce there to get it done.”
The Hurricanes were shut out for the third time this season, but for the first time at home. They were coming off a four-game road trip when they posted 18 goals.
Huberdeau said it was an ideal way to end the road trip and it should add to the Panthers’ confidence during an upcoming stretch of home games.
“We had an opportunity (to convert late in the game) and that’s what we did,” he said.
The game was scoreless through two periods without many scoring chances. Both teams had five shots on goal in the first period. It took the Panthers nearly five minutes into the second period before they registered another shot.
“This was a game that’s a chess match for both teams,” Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson said.
NOTES: With three goals in two of the previous three games, Hurricanes C Jeff Skinner was tied for the NHL lead with two hat tricks. Skinner produced a game-high four shots on goal Friday night. … The Hurricanes were coming off a 2-1-1 road trip. … Florida rookie LW Connor Brickley, who scored his only career NHL goal in this building on Oct. 13, was back in the lineup after a one-game absence. … Panthers LW Jussi Jokinen, a former Carolina player, entered the game with a team-leading 11 points on the road this season. … The teams won’t meet again until April 9 in Florida for their third and final matchup of the season. … The Panthers wrapped up a four-game road stretch. They begin a six-game homestand on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks. … The Hurricanes play their lone road game during a four-game stretch on Saturday at Pittsburgh.
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