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Staal, Hurricanes put down Panthers

Mar 22, 2012 - 4:01 AM Raleigh, NC (Sports Network) - Eric Staal scored twice as Carolina put an end to Florida's five-game win streak with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday.

Joni Pitkanen also tallied and Cam Ward made 30 saves for the Hurricanes, who have won four in a row and crept within five points of idle Washington for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It's a tough thing to do, but I think since the All-Star break when we had the meeting, and let everyone know that we're playing with the big boys now, we've had a lot of guys step up," said Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller.

Tomas Fleischmann provided the sole offense for the Panthers, who haven't lost in regulation since March 8 at Philadelphia. Jose Theodore stopped 36 shots in defeat.

Staal provided an insurance tally on a Carolina power play with 8:14 played in the third period, lifting a Pitkanen pass over Theodore from atop the right circle.

Florida went with an extra attacker for the final 1:15 of regulation to no avail.

"The overall intensity and will to win was certainly higher on their side tonight," said Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen of Carolina. "They're desperately looking for points right now to keep afloat in the playoff chase."

Staal put the hosts on the board with just 46 seconds played, circling behind the Panthers net and banking a shot home from the goal line along the left wing.

Pitkanen, who hadn't played since December 6, doubled Carolina's advantage at 10:55 of the second period by one-timing a drop pass from Tuomo Ruutu from the left circle.

Fleischmann needed only 1:38 to respond, poking home an Ed Jovanovski rebound from in front, but the Panthers failed to solve Ward thereafter.

Game Notes

Staal has recorded back-to-back multi-goal efforts, after tallying twice at Winnipeg on Sunday...Carolina's win was the first in five meetings with Florida during the season series...All five contests have been decided by two goals or less...Prior to the game, the Hurricanes activated Pitkanen off injured reserve after missing 44 games with a concussion and knee injury that required surgery...Florida welcomed back forward Scottie Upshall, who had been out since January 24 following sports hernia surgery...Carolina's Jeff Skinner also returned following a two-game suspension.