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Matt Cullen, Patrick Dwyer Lead Hurricanes Past Panthers, 3-2

The Carolina Hurricanes needed a top-to-bottom effort to split their home-and-home series with the Florida Panthers. That's exactly what they got. After surging to a three-goal lead, the Canes survived a fluke goal and a 5-on-3 tally from the Panthers to hold on for a 3-2 win at the RBC Center and avenge Friday night's 6-3 loss in South Florida.

The combination of Matt Cullen and Patrick Dwyer led the way for Carolina, while Cam Ward played perhaps his best game in net since returning from injury. Cullen had a shorthanded goal and an assisted on Dwyer's second goal in as many games. But the duo — specifically Dwyer — were dangerous throughout the evening.

"We're going to work on the empty nets with him," Maurice said, referring to Dwyer's failed pass to Ray Whitney with Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen pulled for an extra attacker late in the game. "But you're seeing what he's been doing in the American league, almost a point a game, now he's starting to get comfortable. I think you're starting to see what he's capable of doing every night. But he's certainly generating some chances."

Dwyer — playing his 11th game with the Canes this season — absorbed a board-rattling hit behind the Panthers net from Keith Ballard, scooted back to Clemmensen’s right and banged in Cullen's centering feed to open the scoring at 12:28 of the first. It was Dwyer's third career NHL goal.

Cullen would score next. After Stephane Yelle took a tripping penalty on an odd collision with Florida's Victor Oreskovich, Cullen raced past ex-Hurricane Dennis Seidenberg as he failed to hold the zone. Cullen skated down right side shorthanded on a 2-on-1, faking a pass to Dwyer and beating Clemmensen on the short side at 14:47 for an unassisted goal — his eighth tally and second shorthanded marker of the season — to make the score 2-0.

Cullen, who has played with perhaps as many linemates as any Hurricane this season, seems to have found quick chemistry with Dwyer. 

"He moves well, he's got good instincts and he's got some nice hands, and now he's shown an ability to finish," Cullen said of Dwyer. "I like him as a player. He's quick and he's a fun guy to play with because he's always jumping into holes and is not afraid to shoot the puck."

Sergei Samsonov then pushed the Canes to a 3-0 lead at 8:27 of the second after converting a cross-ice feed from Tom Kostopoulos. Kostopoulos first accepted a long blueline-to-blueline pass from defenseman Jay Harrison from the opposite side of the ice, raced up the right wing and zipped the pass across to Samsanov, who notched his fifth goal of the season.

With memories of past third-period leads blown fresh in everyone's mind, Carolina had a bad bounce lead to Florida's first goal. Shawn Matthias scored at 2:17 of the third when an odd carom off the glass left goalie Cam Ward stranded behind the net. Matthias fired the puck into the wide open goal to make the score 3-1.

Then with Ray Whitney and Stephane Yelle in the box on separate hooking calls, red-hot Stephen Weiss  — who was otherwise quiet all evening — made it a one-goal game at 12:39 of the third when he shot in a loose puck with the Canes scrambling while down two men. 

But the Hurricanes were able to shut the door as Ward — 28 saves on 30 shots — stifled the Panthers down the stretch to give Carolina its second win in three games and third consecutive home victory.

Game Notes
  • Outside of looking silly courtesy the bad bounce on the Matthias goal, Ward looked like the goalie that led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Although he wasn't tested much the first two periods, Ward made several acrobatic — a few of them stylish — stops at opportune times to keep the momentum out of Florida's hands.
  • Kostopoulous looked to spark Carolina early, squaring off with the Panthers' Gregory Campbell just 1:16 into the game. There were more spins and twirls than landed punches, but the message was delivered that the Canes were prepared to avenge their loss Friday night.
  • Whitney was credited with the secondary assist on Dwyer's goal, his 300th point as a Cane.
  • Dwyer tied Eric Staal with a team-high four shots, while Tuomo Ruutu was credited six hits.
  • The Carolina defense played one of its best games of the season. Aaron Ward had a particularly good outing, going plus-2 and blocking a key shot when Ward was hung out to dry.
  • Tim Gleason and Niclas Wallin were healthy scratches again, but Albany call-ups Bryan Rodney, Brett Carson and Harrison all played well. Joni Pitkanen had the hit of the night, flattening Florida's Radek Dvorak. Andrew Alberts led all blueliners with four hits.