SUNRISE, Fla. -- The mood inside the Carolina Hurricanes' lockerroom was not as upbeat as you'd expect for a team that has won three games in a row and leads the Southeast Division by four points over second-place Winnipeg.
Yes, the Hurricanes swept a home-and-home weekend series, beating the Florida Panthers 3-2 Sunday night at the BB&T center. Sunday's victory followed a 6-2 win Saturday on Carolina ice.
But the big negative for the Canes was the loss of starting goalie Cam Ward, who left Sunday's game 8:56 into the second period with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg. Teammate Joe Corvo crashed into Ward about a minute before he finally left the ice.
There was no immediate word on the severity of the injury to Ward, who had stopped all 15 shots he faced.
Backup Dan Ellis, who would have started Sunday's game had he had not been ill, held on for the win, but blamed himself for Ward's injury.
"I wasn't feeling well -- some type of flu or whatever it was," Ellis said. "But it ended up costing us our goalie.
"If I would have found a way to play through it, maybe it would have prevented an accident like that. I have to take responsibility for that and take that on my shoulders. It sucks to lose such a good goaltender, such a big piece to our team and such a good person."
The Hurricanes, who have 25 points, are eight ahead of the Panthers, who are tied for last with the Washington Capitals.
The Panthers, though, did put a scare into Carolina on Sunday, scoring with 55 seconds left on a goal by rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. It was his second goal of the game and his 10th of the season.
The Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead late in the first period on a pair of goals scored within one minute of each other.
First it was Justin Faulk, scoring on a slapshot at 18:08 after a poor clear attempt by the Panthers' defense. The unassisted goal was his third of the year.
Then Alexander Semin, took a slick pass from Jiri Tlusty, and scored on a backhander, his fifth goal of the season.
Jordan Staal made it 3-0, scoring unassisted on a wrist shot at 6:09 of the second period. It was his fifth goal of the season.
Staal said playing the same team on consecutive nights made for intense hockey.
"It's like playing a six-period game, and it can get pretty heated toward the end," he said. "We knew coming into the weekend that we hadn't been very good in the division. We needed to get some separation from these teams, and we did a good job this weekend of finding a way to get the four points."
After Ward was replaced by Ellis, Huberdeau made it 3-1 with a tip-in at 16:04 of the second period. Huberdeau is fresh off his award as the NHL Rookie of the Month.
Huberdeau, who had six goals and three assists in 13 February games, leads all NHL rookies in goals. Panthers' rookie Drew Shore, who has 10 points this season, was third in the Rookie of the Month voting.
Those two have combined with veteran Peter Mueller on the Panthers' most effective line.
"It's just their energy," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "They have such a high compete level. You can feel their enthusiasm -- they are working every single shift. They are also skilled players and have the ability to make quality plays.
"That's a positive for us right now, but I don't think it's any fun for them until we figure out a way to start working toward two points."
The Panthers probably won't get those points consistently unless they can sort out their goaltending, which has been a mess this season.
They entered Sunday last in the 31-team league with a 3.71 goals-against average. And they also entered Sunday coming off three straight games in which neither goalie -- Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen -- managed to last through the second period.
Theodore's knee injury on Saturday -- the same ailment that caused him to miss last year's playoffs -- finally forced the Panthers to make a change, recalling rookie Jacob Markstrom from the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Dineen, who said Theodore "is going to be out awhile," started Clemmensen Sunday. Markstrom arrived late from San Antonio -- and his equipment got to the arena even later.
It's a pretty safe bet Markstrom will be getting a long look very soon -- and many of the fans at the BB&T Center were chanting his name after every goal allowed Sunday by Clemmensen.
Dineen, though, would not commit to a starting goalie for Florida's next game, Tuesday at home against Winnipeg.
"I never make my goalie decisions until later," said Dineen, clearly in no mood to elaborate.
Meanwhile, Panthers center Stephen Weiss, who was ejected Saturday after fighting Faulk, was back in action. But it's been a tough week for the Panthers star.
Weiss missed Tuesday's win over the Penguins to attend the funeral of his grandmother in Toronto. And, in his last game before he left for the funeral, Weiss was benched in the third period.
Weiss said he has to improve if he intends to keep his spot in the lineup.
"The easy answer is to play better," he said. "That's the bottom line."
Notes: The Panthers placed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov on the injured list after he hurt his wrist/hand on Saturday. Nolan Yonkman, 31, a veteran of 67 NHL games, was called up from the minors to replace Kulikov. ... Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver, who suffered a lower-body injury in Thursday's loss to the Buffalo Sabres, will be out an "extended" amount of time, according to Dineen. ... Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski (knee), who has already been out a month, will miss at least another week, Dineen said. ... Dineen said the Panthers will have something to announce about Alex Kovalev in a couple of days, but the conjecture is that the veteran winger will be released. He has been a healthy scratch the past few games. ... Panthers winger Scottie Upshall, who missed 13 games this season due to injuries, returned to action Saturday but he did not complete the game due to a lower-body injury. He was inactive Sunday. ... Panthers winger Kris Versteeg was not in Sunday's lineup but is reportedly close to returning from his injury. ... Before the Hurricanes beat the Panthers Saturday night, they were 0-5 against their Southeast Division rivals but 10-3-1 against the rest of the Eastern Conference. ... Carolina center Tim Brent, who sat out Saturday's game due to a lower-body injury, was inactive again on Sunday. ... Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who has been plagued by lower-body injuries, did not play Sunday. He had missed seven games, returned Saturday but then re-aggravated his injury. ... Hurricanes winger Chad Larose was also inactive Sunday. ... The Hurricanes are tied for fifth in the league in goals but just 25th on power-play percentage (13.9). They also rank 24th on the penalty kill (78.2).