RALEIGH Behind two goals early to the Florida Panthers with No. 3 goalie Michael Leighton in net and down to 11 forwards with Jordan Staal injured, the Carolina Hurricanes could have come up with some easy excuses to lose their third straight.Instead, the Hurricanes came out for the second period determined to wipe away a lackluster opening 20 minutes. By the 8:49 point of the second, Carolina had vaulted past Florida with three goals en route to a 3-2 win. And after a rough start, Leighton settled in and shut down the Panthers, making 31 saves to earn his first NHL win in nearly six years.”It’s been a long road, and it’s good to be in the NHL,” said Leighton, who last won an NHL game Dec. 30, 2010, when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s good to be in Carolina, and it’s good to get a win.” The Hurricanes players were talking as soon as they entered the room following the opening period.”We hold ourselves to a high standard, and everyone in here knows that,” forward Derek Ryan, who scored the game-winning goal, said. “Some players stepped up and said a few things, and everyone, I think, knew that everyone had to contribute a little bit more and get a little bit better. And I think everyone did that.”After Viktor Stalberg scored at 5:21 of the second on a nice backhand feed from below the red line by pinching defenseman Matt Tennyson, two Jeff Skinner breakaways pushed Carolina ahead. First, Skinner received a breakout pass from Victor Rask and held off a chasing Aaron Ekblad before backhanding the puck past Florida goalie James Reimer for his ninth goal of the season to tie the game. Skinner then drew a penalty on another breakaway, and Carolina converted immediately on the power play. Skinner dangled toward Reimer but lost the puck, which was picked up by Ryan and angled off Reimer’s arm and in to put the Hurricanes ahead. It was Ryan’s first goal in his eight-game recall and fourth of his NHL career.Despite seizing control, Carolina still had to battle to close it out. The Hurricanes took back-to-back penalties late in the second, with three seconds overlapping for an abbreviated 5-on-3, and another midway through the third. But the Carolina penalty kill, which had its streak of 26-straight penalties killed end with Florida’s first-goal, was up to the task.And they did it without Staal, who played less than three minutes before heading to the Hurricanes locker room for the night with an upper body injury. Peters did not have an update on Staal’s status following the game.By the time Staal exited, the Hurricanes were already in a two-goal hole.After Stalberg was called for an offensive zone boarding penalty, Jonathan Marchessault snapped Carolina’s penalty kill streak with his 10th goal of the season. Marchessault collected a rebound to Leighton’s right to open the scoring at 5:41 of the first. “You never want to be in the box when the other team scores,” Stalberg said. “Our kill’s been doing such a good job of making sure that hasn’t happened to a lot of guys this year.” It didn’t get better for Leighton. Four minutes later, Ekblad got his sixth goals of the year when his point shot hit the Carolina goalie’s chest, but Leighton was unable to hold on. Jaromir Jagr whacked his glove, popping the puck up and over Leighton and into the net to make it 2-0.But the Hurricanes and Leighton survived the remainder of the first period and found their footing for the final 40 minutes.”It’s huge, especially for a young team like we are,” Stalberg said. “I think it’s important to find ways to not lose too many in a row. That’s stuff good teams do. They lose one and they get right back at it. Especially the way we played, we felt unfortunate that we didn’t come away with any points in those last two games.”The three-goal second period ended Carolina’s two-game skid and gave them their sixth regulation win in the last eight outings.”We played at such a high level for so long, to be honest with you,” Peters said of the slow start. “We’ve played better the whole road trip, every game. And we’ve been at a high level at home prior to going on the road. And that wasn’t the level we’ve set, the standard. They’re very aware of that and they fixed it.”GALLANT FIREDPanthers head coach Gerard Gallant was fired after the game, he confirmed as he waited for taxi outside PNC Arena after news of his dismissal broke. Panther GM Tom Rowe, a former Hurricanes assistant coach, was named interim coach. He was at the game Sunday.Gallant was led the Panthers to a 47-26-9 last season and a playoff berth. The loss Sunday dropped Florida’s record to 11-10-1 this season, leading to his confusing dismissal.
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