RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The T-shirts for the Southeast Division
champs were hanging in each player's locker when the Carolina
Hurricanes skated off the ice. What has been a near certainty for
weeks finally was official, yet any celebration will have to wait.
The Hurricanes aren't finished yet.
"It's an accomplishment and our guys should be proud of that,"
coach Peter Laviolette said. "They've worked hard to get to this
point, but trust me. It's not the ultimate goal."
With 102 points through 73 games, the Hurricanes moved within
three points of Ottawa for the best record in the Eastern
Conference by stopping Florida's seven-game winning streak.
Carolina, headed to the postseason for the first time since
reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, leads Tampa Bay by 19
points in the division.
"It's nice that's it over with, I think it's kind of been a
foregone conclusion for it seems like forever," Hurricanes captain
Rod Brind'Amour said. "We're not overly excited about it. It was
just a matter of time. We've got bigger and better things we want
Adams got his ninth goal of the season with teammate Chad LaRose
in the penalty box for hooking. Kevyn Adams lofted the puck out of
the Carolina zone and Craig Adams outraced Chris Gratton to get to
it. Goalie Roberto Luongo whiffed on his clearing attempt, allowing
Adams to knock in the go-ahead goal.
"I actually thought I could get to the puck before Luongo," he
said. "Once he got it, I just wanted to put some pressure on him,
and I was lucky that he coughed it up to me."
Ray Whitney and Mark Recchi also had goals for the Hurricanes,
and Martin Gerber had 21 saves. They finished 1-for-9 on the power
play, with Florida's Steve Montador totaling three penalties and
fellow defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski getting two.
"Against a team like Carolina, they're a fast team, and they
move the puck quick," Gratton said. "If you don't keep your feet
moving, you'll be forced into a lot of penalties."
Gratton and Mike Van Ryn scored for the Panthers, who remained
eight points out of the playoffs. They trail the sixth-place tie of
Tampa Bay, Montreal and New Jersey, with Atlanta also in the mix as
the top eight teams qualify.
Florida center Jozef Stumpel missed the game with a hip injury
suffered Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
"There's no time to think about this game," Panthers coach
Jacques Martin said. "We've got to bounce back."
Van Ryn made it 2-2 midway through the second period during a
4-on-4, getting credit for the goal when defenseman Aaron Ward
inadvertently deflected a pass into his own net. Van Ryn was
looking for Kwiatkowski, but Ward sprawled to the ice to block it.
When he rolled over and swung at the puck, it slipped by Gerber.
"I was trying to force him to make that pass," Ward said.
"It's just one of those flukey things, where I realized he hadn't
shot it yet, and that sliding stick behind me has stopped a few
pucks before. I think that might be the second one I've scored on
my goalie in my career."
Gratton gave Florida the lead with his 17th goal of the season
in the first period, and it held up despite three separate two-man
advantages for Carolina that totaled more than 2 minutes. Finally,
seconds after the third one ended, Whitney was able to score after
Eric Staal won a faceoff from Serge Payer.
Whitney patiently skated in before beating Luongo over his right
"The key on 5-on-3s is to make a goalie's life miserable, and
guys were getting good chances in there," Kevyn Adams said.
"Whit's goal was a big one, because the power play was starting to
wind down. It gave us a big lift."
Recchi put the Hurricanes ahead with his second goal since
coming to the team in a trade earlier this month, redirecting a
shot from Frantisek Kaberle through Luongo to make it 2-1.
The Hurricanes had Bret Hedican back in the lineup hours after
they activated fellow defenseman Andrew Hutchinson from injured
reserve. Hutchinson (wrist surgery) didn't dress for the game and
joined Doug Weight, Niclas Wallin, Andrew Ladd and Erik Cole as
General manager Jim Rutherford said before the game that he
expected Wallin and Weight back next week.
"It's going to be great," Craig Adams said. "It'd really be
nice to get a few games in before the playoffs, with all the guys
back in the lineup. We want to be firing on all cylinders, so we
can hit the ground running in the first game of the playoffs."
Hurricanes C Josef Vasicek plans to return Monday night
after missing nearly five months following knee surgery in
November. ... Near the end of the second period, Florida LW Gary
Roberts played nearly an entire shift without his helmet. He lost
it a scrum along the boards. ... Carolina improved to 13-0-1 when