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Panthers cruise to rout of Hurricanes behind rookie Huberdeau

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- If Florida Panthers fans were upset at the team because of the NHL's long lockout, those feelings never showed Saturday night.

There was a sellout crowd of 19,688 in the house, and the constant barrage of goals by the home team kept Panthers faithful happy in a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Panthers Coach Kevin Dineen said he could feel the energy of the fans before the game even started.

"I walked on the ice about 45 minutes before the game, and it was a madhouse," Dineen said. "That filters down. The players feel the buzz. What a turnout we had, and fortunately I think we put out an entertaining show."

The entertainment started early as the Panthers scored four goals in the first period, including three on the power play.

It was the Panthers' first four-goal period since Dec. 17, 2010, when they blitzed Buffalo in the opening 20 minutes.

Saturday's outburst was made extra special since it was the season-opener.

On a night when the Panthers raised their first-ever Southeast Division championship banner, which was won last season, the team got contributions from a wide variety of sources. The heroes ranged from a teenager to someone more than twice his age.

It started with just 3:37 elapsed as forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who was making his NHL debut, announced his arrival. The 19-year-old rookie, who was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, parked in front of the net, received a pass from Peter Mueller and one-timed it for a goal he won't soon forget.

"I think we got a pretty good snapshot of his high-end skill set," Dineen said of Huberdeau, who would later add two assists.

In the locker room, Huberdeau, wearing a red-feathered hat given to him by the veterans to represent his player-of-the-game status, said he tried to keep it simple.

"I'm happy with the way I played," said Huberdeau, who scored in just his second NHL shift. "It's nice to play at home and have a game like this."

New Panthers winger Alex Kovalev, 39, who signed a one-year deal on Friday, got the secondary assist, one of two he recorded in the game. Kovalev, by the way, is the last remaining active player from the 1994 New York Rangers team that won the Stanley Cup.

The next three goals came on the power play. Defenseman Brian Campbell made it 2-0 when he stole a clearing attempt and scored unassisted. His slapshot beat Cam Ward glove side with 6:42 gone.

"I just kind of read the play," Campbell said.

Ten minutes later, Campbell scored again on another high slapshot, assisted by Kovalev and Stephen Weiss. Campbell had four goals and a team-high and career-high 49 assists last season, and he's off to a flying start in 2013.

Winger Scottie Upshall capped the period with the Panthers' fourth goal of the night.

The Hurricanes pulled Ward -- who stopped just eight of 12 shots -- after the first period, replacing him with Dan Ellis, a veteran backup who made his Carolina debut.

The teams played to a stand-off in the second period. Kovalev made it 5-0 with a goal that was assisted by Huberdeau and defenseman Filip Kuba.

The Hurricanes finally got on the board when Patrick Dwyer scored with 9:15 elapsed. Joni Pitkanen and Justin Faulk got the assists.

The Panthers' Jose Theodore got the win, making 41 saves.

It was a disappointing start for Carolina, considered the favorites in the division after adding Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin in the offseason. Staal was united with his brother Eric in the Hurricanes' lineup. Semin got one shot on goal. Jordan Staal got two shots, but he was minus-two on his plus-minus ledger.

But it wasn't just those two. The Hurricanes power play, for example, went 0-for-6, and their penalty kill was ineffective as well.

The Hurricanes have a lot of work to do before Tuesday's home opener against Tampa Bay, but the desire is there, Eric Staal said.

"We have a lot of guys who want it and care," he said. "But sometimes you get into a game with the puck bouncing a bit, and you get antsy."

Hurricanes coach Kevin Muller said the poor start doomed his team.

"We put ourselves behind the eight-ball," he said. "It looked like we had some guys with jitters."

NOTES: Semin started on the first line with center Eric Staal and Zach Boychuk on the left side. ... The Panthers took five out of six games from the Hurricanes last season. ... Defenseman Ed Jovanovski, 36, was named the Panthers' captain on Friday. The team's first-round pick in 1994, Jovanovski was traded to Vancouver in January of 1999 and returned to Florida in 2011. He becomes the Panthers' seventh captain in team history and their first since Brian McCabe was traded in 2011. Campbell and Weiss will serve as assistant captains. ... The Panthers were without first-line winger Kris Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who spent the lockout playing in Russia and just signed a two-year contract on Friday. Also out: defensemen Mike Weaver and Erik Gudbranson and forwards Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc. ... For the Hurricanes, defenseman Jamie McBain, center Jeremy Welsh and wingers Tuomo Ruutu and Kevin Westgarth were out. .. Next up for the Panthers is a trip to Ottawa on Monday night.
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