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'Canes Storm Panthers

The Carolina Hurricanes proved once again Tuesday night they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs. The trick will be getting there.

Sami Kapanen and Tommy Westlund scored in a two-minute span in the second period as the Hurricanes defeated the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers 4-2.

Carolina beat New Jersey the top team in the Eastern Conference 4-3 last Friday, but then two days later was shut out in Montreal, an injury-riddled team in last place in the Northeast Division.

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  • "There might be a little bit of fear that if you're not ready to play a solid 60 minutes against the top teams that you are going to be beat up," said Kapanen, who is headed to the All-Star game on Sunday.

    "Everybody was pumped and ready to play and against the good teams we are taking better care in our own end," he added. "That is the way this team needs to play. We need to find a way to do this every night no matter who the other team is."

    The Carolina victory, coupled with Pittsburgh's win over Washington, has Carolina three points out of the Eastern Conference playoff race with 29 games left.

    "I really think the last two months we haven't played that bad," said Carolina's Paul Coffey. "We've been working hard, but you're got to score goals to win games and I think tonight we paid the price a little bit better and finished all of our checks down low. We got their defensemen a little bit tired and they had their heads up a little more."

    The Panthers are 2-4-1 in seven games since going a season-high 13 games over .500 two weeks ago.

    "This is something that happens in a long season and wjust have to work our way through it," said Florida coach Terry Murray. "We're at a low point and we have to bounce back and get going in the second half (of the season)."

    Florida's Pavel Bure, who had 28 goals and 20 assists in his last 27 games, was held without a point.

    After trailing 2-0, Florida tied it as Mark Parrish and Victor Kozlov beat Arturs Irbe from the slot 1:50 apart.

    But Kapanen scored his 20th goal 27 seconds after Kozlov's tally on a great move, warding off three defenders and beating Mike Vernon with a shot through traffic.

    Less than two minutes later, Martin Gelinas, a victim on Florida's first two goals, fed Westlund in close and he beat Vernon up high for his fourth. The Panthers fell to 0-11-1 when trailing after two periods.

    Vernon, who beat Carolina 5-1 three weeks ago, gave up a pair of goals 14:06 in as the Hurricanes peppered him with 11 first-period shots.

    Ron Francis, returning to the lineup after missing two games with back spasms, scored his 14th midway through the first. Francis converted a nice pass from Jeff O'Neill, who got his career-high 40th point in his fifth NHL season.

    Less than six minutes later, Vernon allowed a bad goal as he tried to kick out a soft shot by Andrei Kovalenko that slipped under his skates and into the net. Rod Brind'Amour assisted for his first point in five games since being acquired from Philadelphia for Keith Primeau.

    Carolina's Sean Hill, the Hurricanes' top scoring defenseman, returned to the lineup for the first time after missing 18 games with a groin injury.

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