'Canes snap Panthers' 5-game win streak, 3-1

JOEDY McCREARY AP Sports Writer Published:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Joni Pitkanen had a goal and an assist in his first game in three months, and the Carolina Hurricanes beat Florida 3-1 Wednesday night to snap the Panthers' five-game winning streak.

Eric Staal had his second straight two-goal game -- giving him a team-leading 23 -- and Cam Ward made 30 saves to help the Hurricanes win their season-best fourth straight and earn points for the 14th time in 17 home games.

Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, who had been on their longest winning streak since a club-record seven straight in 2008. They were denied their first season sweep in Raleigh.

Jose Theodore stopped 36 shots for Florida. He entered 4-0 this season against the Hurricanes.

Two key players were back on the ice for Carolina: Pitkanen, who missed 44 games with a concussion and a left knee injury that required surgery, and Jeff Skinner, who served a two-game suspension for kicking St. Louis forward Scott Nichol last week with his skate.

Pitkanen put the Hurricanes up 2-0 with 9:05 left in the second period when he scored in transition. Tuomo Ruutu left him the puck behind the left circle and the defenseman blasted it past Theodore.

Florida made it 2-1 68 seconds later after Ward couldn't wrap up Ed Jovanovski's shot. Fleischmann's second-chance attempt ricocheted off Pitkanen's skate and into the net for his 23rd goal, matching a career high.

Staal then scored on a power play with 11:36 left in the third -- off a pretty assist from Pitkanen -- and Ward stopped the final 13 shots he faced for his second straight win.

The Carolina captain entered with 42 goals in his previous 36 games -- a major reason why the Hurricanes have been so hot lately -- and wasted virtually no time adding to that total.

He put Carolina up 1-0 46 seconds in when he skated unimpeded down the wing and behind Theodore, then flipped a shot along the red line that clipped a Florida skater on its way into the net.

Brandon Sutter came close to making it a two-goal game for the Hurricanes with a short-handed wraparound that got behind Theodore and traveled along the goal line -- but never fully crossed it. A 2-minute video review upheld that on-ice call, and Pitkanen's goal came 31 seconds later.

NOTES: Things got chippy after the final horn, with both teams briefly confronting each other at center ice before the officials sent them to their dressing rooms. ... The Hurricanes have scored at least one goal in 10 consecutive periods. ... Fleischmann has four goals this season against Carolina. ... Staal has four goals in his last two games and points in three straight. ... Florida C Shawn Matthias, a healthy scratch, missed his first game since Oct. 20.