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Hurricanes 3, Panthers 0

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SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Carolina Hurricanes, extreme long shots to make the NHL playoffs, got a much-needed 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at the BB&T Center.

The Hurricanes (73 points) have just nine games left and started the day nine points -- and several teams -- behind the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has alternated loss-win for the past six games, failing to make a positive move in the standings.

Florida, with just eight games left, has 62 points and has long been out of any serious playoff contention. The Panthers have lost eight of their past 11 games.

The Hurricanes swept the season series from the Panthers, winning all three games, including two in Carolina.

Center Jiri Tlusty had two goals and center Jeff Skinner added one to lead Carolina, which also got solid goaltending from Anton Khudobin (16-12), who posted his first shutout of the season.

Florida pulled star goalie Roberto Luongo after the first period, when he trailed just 1-0. A team official indicated that Luongo had an upper-body injury and was removed as a precautionary measure.

Carolina opened the scoring with 10:51 left in the first period. Center Eric Staal fired a pass that was slightly behind Tlusty, who gathered it and held on until a gap opened between right winger Krys Barch and Luongo, who was strangely out of position given the duration of the play.

With 17:30 left in the second period, Tlusty struck again, scoring his 14th goal of the season. This time, he beat backup goalie Dan Ellis. The assists went to center Andrei Loktionov and defenseman Justin Faulk.

The Hurricanes made it 3-0 when Skinner scored his 28th goal of the season, which came with 14:14 left in the second period. Right winger Patrick Dwyer started the play with a shot on Ellis, who failed to control the rebound. Dwyer whacked at the puck and got it to Skinner for the goal.

Florida had its opportunities in the second period. Left winger Tomas Fleischmann shot a puck that trickled behind Khudobin before he recovered. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov took a shot that dribbled to the right of Khudobin before it was swept away by the Carolina defense.

NOTES: Panthers D Erik Gudbranson, who had been out since March 9 due to a knee injury, returned Thursday. Gudbranson, 22, a former first-round pick, is a restricted free agent after this season, but he does not appear to be going anywhere. Florida GM Dale Tallon said recently that he sees Gudbranson as a future captain. ... Still injured for the Panthers are D Tom Gilbert (sports hernia), LW Tomas Kopecky (concussion), D Alex Petrovic (upper body), C Aleksander Barkov (knee) and C Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body). ... Before the game, Florida sent D Ryan Whitney and RW Joey Crabb to San Antonio of the AHL. ... The Hurricanes signed rookie LW Phil Di Giuseppe to a three-year contract. He played college hockey at Michigan and was Carolina's second-round pick in 2012. ... Carolina had three healthy scratches: G Justin Peters, D Mike Komisarek and LW Drayson Bowman. ... The Hurricanes return home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. ... The Panthers conclude their three-game homestand on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.
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