SUNRISE, Fla. — The Carolina Hurricanes had a police escort, sirens blazing, Wednesday from their hotel in Fort Lauderdale Beach to the Florida Panthers' BankAtlantic Center.
Once at the arena, the Hurricanes were on their own. The Panthers made all the early noise, but the Canes were loud late. Very loud.
Trailing 3-0 barely five minutes into the game, the Hurricanes rallied behind rookie Jeff Skinner, veteran Tuomo Ruutu and backup goalie Justin Peters for a pulsating 4-3 victory.
Ruutu had the game-winner with 6:12 left, charging in to pick off a pass by Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun in the low slot and rip in a shot. Ruutu had scored a 5-on-3 goal with 7:40 to play that tied the score 3-3.
Skinner, playing with an inner fury, had a pair of huge assists. Erik Cole followed up a Skinner shot for the Canes' first goal, late in the second period and Skinner had a hand in Ruutu's power-play goal.
Defenseman Jamie McBain beat Vokoun with a rising shot at 7:02 of the third, making it a 3-2 game. The Canes were charging.
The Panthers scored 29 seconds into the first period and again at 1:42. Just like that, Cam Ward was out of the Carolina net and Peters in — the earliest exit of Ward's career and a shocker.
The Panthers weren't done, adding a 5-on-3 goal against Peters barely five minutes into the game. The Hurricanes have had slow starts this season but nothing like this one as the Panthers were aggressive, energetic.
But Skinner got the Canes going strong move into the Florida zone late in the second period ended with Cole scoring, and the Canes continued to attack Vokoun.
McBain's scored and Carolina then had 1:06 of a 5-on-3 after Skinner's spinorama resulted in a second Florida penalty.
When the Hurricanes were last in the building, in early November, the Panthers rolled to a 7-4 win. Ward gave up six goals in that one, facing 49 shots.
But Carolina returned this time coming off a well-played 2-1 shootout road win against the St. Louis Blues. Ward had been superb in net, stopping 66 of 68 shots in the past two games, and the Canes were boldly talking of making a move up in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, Panthers forward Evgeny Dadonov scored his first NHL goal 29 seconds in after Florida won a faceoff in the Carolina zone and the puck was chipped in front of the crease. Michael Frolik then made it 2-0, knocking in the rebound of a Chris Higgins shot off the rush.
That was it for Ward, but the damage wasn't over. Canes defenseman Bryan Rodney, called up Tuesday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, was called for tripping at 4:29 of the first and winger Chad LaRose for another trip at 5:02.
The Panthers had 1:27 of a 5-on-3 but needed just 14 seconds. Defenseman Bryan McCabe blasted a shot from the right point and it was 3-0.
Skinner drove the net and appeared to score, but the ruling was Skinner made incidental contact with Vokoun and that the net had been dislodged. But another Skinner drive did lead to the Canes' first goal.
Skinner, playing with Cole and Eric Staal on the top line, pushed the puck past defenseman Mike Weaver on the left side and got off a hard shot. Cole followed it up for his sixth goal of the season with 5:21 left in the second to make it a 3-1 game.
Moments later, Skinner nearly scored again after Vokoun had his paddle knocked out of his hands and behind the net. But Skinner couldn't stuff in a shot at the post.
The Panthers finally iced the puck, allowing Vokoun to retrieve his paddle. Florida coach Peter DeBoer also used his timeout for some rest time, trying to restore some order.
The Hurricanes play tonight in Atlanta against the Thrashers, one of the NHL's hottest teams of late.