RALEIGH, N.C. -- In an unusual twist, the Carolina Hurricanes have led the NHL's Southeast Division this season without a victory over a divisional team.
The Canes knew that trend couldn't continue, and did something about it Saturday.
The Hurricanes topped the Florida Panthers, 6-2, at PNC Arena in the first game of a home-and-home. Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal each scored twice and Riley Nash picked up his first NHL goal and had two assists as Carolina took a two-point lead in the division.
Jiri Tlusty, who has been on a tear, scored his 10th goal of the season and Alexander Semin had three assists for the Hurricanes (11-8-1).
The Canes were 0-5-0 against Southeast Division teams this season. They also were facing a team that was making a habit of frustrating and beating them.
The Panthers (6-10-5) won the division last year, topping the Canes five times. They then slapped Carolina 5-1 in this year's season-opener.
Jose Theodore was the starting goalie for Florida in the opener and again Saturday. But the veteran suffered an apparent leg injury 2:22 into the game and was helped off the ice, forcing Scott Clemmensen into the game.
The Canes have had some slow-starting first periods this season, but not Saturday. Jokinen scored twice and Tlusty added the third in a span of 3:05, as the Canes led the Panthers 3-1 after this first -- only the second time this season the Canes have led after the opening period.
The Panthers got a goal from Shawn Matthias late in the first period and Filip Kuba late in the second. But Nash and Staal had scored for the Canes to push Carolina ahead 5-1 before Kuba's goal.
Staal picked up his 12th goal of the season in the third and has four goals in the past four games.
The only downside for the Hurricanes was again losing defenseman Joni Pitkanen to a lower-body injury. Pitkanen, who had missed the past seven games, left after the first period.
Clemmensen suffered through the nightmarish stretch, allowing the three Canes goals in the first on three consecutive shots.
Jokinen had scored two goals in the first 19 games while often centering the third line. But he made the most of his opportunities playing the wing on Nash's wing with Pat Dwyer.
Jokinen's first goal, with 13:37 left in the first, came on quick shot from the left circle after Nash passed off the left boards. Tlusty, open in the slot, scored off a pass from Alexander Semin, and Jokinen struck again off a Nash pass after Nash forced a turnover.
The Panthers began to move the puck better late in the first and scored on a shot from the right wing from Matthias, who scored his fourth of the season.
Nash got his goal and Eric Staal scored his 11th of the season as the Canes built a 5-2 lead after two.
Nash had a shot bang off the post early in the second period. But with 14:38 left in the period, he ripped a shot past Clemmensen off a two-on-one rush with Dwyer and then tumbled into the boards.
Staal scored off a neat feed from Semin, collecting the puck in front of the crease to Clemmensen's left, quickly going to his forehand to beat the goalie.
The injuries also continued to pile up for the Panthers. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and forward Scottie Upshall left the game.
Defenseman Filip Kuba scored for the Panthers late in the second to make it a 5-2 game.
Late in the second period, Canes defenseman Justin Faulk put a big hit on Florida's Stephen Weiss behind the Panthers net. The two dropped the gloves early in the third -- Faulk getting the upper hand in the fight and Weiss receiving a game misconduct.
And to think -- the two teams go at it again Sunday, in Sunrise Fla.
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