The previous time the Panthers visited the Hurricanes, the visitors locker room looked more like the waiting room at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Three players sat on folding chairs in various state of injury from goalie Jose Theodore to Dmitry Kulikov and Scottie Upshall. The dour looks on their faces reflected the final score, a romp by the home team.
Tuesday night, the last-place Panthers turned the tables on the division-leading Hurricanes in their building.
Playing as division rivals for the final time (at least for now), the Panthers put on a clinic in the third period to blow past host Carolina 4-1 at PNC Arena to snap a six-game winless streak.
“It’s been a few weeks here since we got some reward,” said coach Kevin Dineen, who served as the Hurricanes’ captain in 1997 when the franchise moved south from Hartford.
“I wasn’t disappointed with our tempo of our game the past few outings. The results just haven’t been there. It was nice to get some on the power play, get the win, get the goaltending. It was a pretty complete effort. Honestly, there’s a big sigh right now. We needed to take a breath and get two points.”’
The Hurricanes’ 32 points were by far the fewest of any divisional leader in the Eastern Conference. Carolina, which has lost four straight, was jumped in the standings by Winnipeg (34 points now) Tuesday and dropped into a tie with New Jersey for seventh in the east.
The Panthers, who move to a more Canadian-centric division next season as the Hurricanes stay in the mid-Atlantic, won just nine of 40 games played here since the building opened in 1999.
Florida, 6-2 losers here on March 2, have won three of the past five games in Raleigh as the Panthers split the four-game series with Carolina this season. Florida continues its season-long five-game road trip Thursday in Manhattan against the Rangers.
"I couldn’t let my teammates go out there without me,’’ said Shawn Matthias, who was sick all day Tuesday but got well enough to play — and score Florida’s third goal. “I didn’t care how bad I felt earlier, this feels pretty good right now.’’
The Panthers played a strong game throughout and had plenty of chances against a Carolina team that lost a shootout in New York the night before. Florida was outshooting the Hurricanes 28-22 going into the third yet the score was tied at 0.
Florida changed that 7:39 into the third when Tomas Fleischmann took a Tomas Kopecky feed and beat Dan Ellis.
Later, Marcel Goc made it 2-0 as he redirected Filip Kuba’s shot on a 5-on-3 power play chance.
The Panthers hadn’t scored a power play goal in the previous nine games. Not to be outdone, Matthias got his ninth at the tail end of the power play by jamming the puck home.
Carolina got a power play goal of its own (only its fifth on home ice all year) with 2:33 left, but Jacob Markstrom would let nothing else pass. Markstrom, who watched Scott Clemmensen make Florida’s previous two starts, was terrific in stopping 33 shots.
Markstrom had surrendered the initial goal within the opening three shots in his past four starts. Tuesday, the Hurricanes didn’t solve Markstrom until the outcome had all but been decided.
“The power play was timely and stepped up in the third. It could be frustrating when we’re not winning and it was 0-0 in the third. But we kept doing what we had been doing. It was a great period. The puck finally bounced our way.”’
The Panthers had a player make his NHL debut for the sixth time this season as enforcer Eric Selleck took over for George Parros.
Selleck, 25, got into a pair of fights in his game Sunday with the AHL San Antonio Rampage — knowing Parros was injured the night before and the Panthers were watching.
Tuesday, Selleck fought Kevin Westgarth late but the bout was over quick. Selleck had to be helped from the ice after taking a punch flush in the face. Dineen didn’t have much of an injury update.
“He played really well, played a couple of really good periods for us,” Dineen said. “He showed he can be very comfortable in this. Unfortunately, he took one in the button there at the end. We’ll see where he’s at. He’s a tough kid. It was unfortunate but that’s our sport.”• Matthias missed the morning skate with "flu-like symptoms" but was in the lineup. Quinton Howden was recalled from San Antonio but didn’t play. Howden will likely stick around with Selleck questionable.