By MIKE POTTER
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Dan Ellis is getting a chance to make a difference for the Florida Panthers in a chase for a playoff spot, and so far he’s making the most of it.
Ellis made 27 saves for his first shutout of the season, and Brandon Pirri scored in the second period to lead the Panthers to a 2-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
“This has been a great time so far,” Ellis said. “Any time you can help a team get into the playoffs, it’s a special time of year.”
Dave Bolland added an empty-net goal for Florida, six points behind Boston and Washington for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers improved to 4-1-1 in their last six games.
“It’s a great win,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “Dan Ellis was a real key for us. He made a number of great saves and was really big for us. It was probably more of a 5-3 (type) game than a 2-0 game, but the goalies were both real good.
“We didn’t play well in the first. They had 15 shots and a lot of quality scoring chances. But after that, we played very well. Dan is playing well and the guys are working hard in front of him.”
It was the 15th career shutout for Ellis, who played in 19 games for Carolina in 2012-13 and went 6-8-3. Ellis, 3-0 all-time against Carolina, is 3-0-1 with the Panthers.
“It’s always nice playing against teams you’ve played for,” Ellis said. “I’ve already played against Dallas and this was my first game against Carolina (this season). I’ve got great friends on both teams and joke around in warmup. That kind of helps you stay loose and have familiarity with the players and the building.
“It’s good and bad because they know you and you know them and sometimes you can overthink it. I think them getting a lot of shots early on helped me get in a little bit of rhythm and woke our team up.”
Cam Ward stopped 21 shots for the Hurricanes.
Pirri scored on the only power play of the second at 16:20, with Jimmy Hayes on the assist. Bolland’s empty-netter on an assist from Derek MacKenzie came with 40 seconds to play.
“It was just one of those streaking plays that was toward the end of the power play,” Pirri said of his goal. “I was just trying to put it on net and Jimmy made a great pass to me. We just took what we were given and Jimmy made a great pass. If that was a lucky one, we’re going to take what we can get.”
Florida also won the previous meeting this season, 1-0 at home on Nov. 26.
“I thought that was one of our better pushes there in the third period,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “We hit a couple of posts with Ron Hainsey and Chris Terry, and I thought we had a good response to being down. For sure, this was one of our better defensive efforts lately. It’s been going into the net a little too easy and tonight it was a power play and an empty-netter.”
The teams served coincidental minors twice during the second period. The first was 15 seconds in, when the Hurricanes’ Eric Staal was called for hooking and Florida’s Nick Bjugstad for embellishment. Then, at 4:24, Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe and the Panthers’ Steven Kampfer were called for roughing.
The Hurricanes pulled Ward with 3:12 left with a sixth attacker, but couldn’t score and fell to 30-8-4 all-time against the Panthers at PNC Arena.
NOTES: Carolina, playing for the final time this season in its black third jersey, was 8-4-0 in the uniform. … It was the finale of a five-game homestand (1-3-1) for Carolina, which plays at Columbus on Sunday. Florida visits the New York Rangers on Sunday. … Carolina D Jack Hillen (concussion) missed his fourth straight game, while D Ryan Murphy was out with illness. RW Patrick Dwyer was a healthy scratch. … Florida goalies Roberto Luongo (upper body) and Al Montoya (lower body) each missed a fourth straight game, while RW Tomas Kopecky was out with illness. LW Shawn Thornton and D Alex Petrovic were healthy scratches. … The final of three meetings between the teams is April 2 at Florida.
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