Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal each scored a pair of goals to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 6-2 rout of the Florida Panthers in the opener of a home-and-home series between the Southeast Division foes from PNC Arena.
Jokinen added an assist on Riley Nash's first career goal, with Nash coming up with a pair of helpers for the rookie's first-ever three-point game. Alexander Semin delivered three assists to help Carolina, which now owns sole possession of first place in the Southeast, end a string of five straight losses to division opponents to begin the season.
Jiri Tlusty also scored for the Hurricanes, while Cam Ward came up with 22 saves in the victory.
"If you're going to be on top of your division, you have to beat the teams in your division," Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said. "We haven't had success on that part of it this year. I think our guys knew that this is a big weekend and the importance of it. I think it showed in their play."
Shawn Matthias and Filip Kuba had the goals for the slumping Panthers, now 2-5-4 in their last 11 outings. Scott Clemmensen stopped just 27-of-33 shots in an emergency relief stint for starting goaltender Jose Theodore, who exited the contest after just 2:22 of action due to a lower-body injury.
The Hurricanes struck early and often to build a commanding lead they maintained throughout, scoring three times within a span of just over three minutes before the first period was even halfway done.
Jokinen began the barrage by firing a quick wrister over Clemmensen's left shoulder 6:23 into the contest, and Tlusty made it a 2-0 game at the 8:39 mark after receiving the puck from Semin following a Florida turnover and firing it past the Panthers' replacement goaltender.
Another Carolina giveaway a mere 49 seconds later led to Jokinen's second tally of the night, which was set up by a sharp left-to-right feed from Nash on a 2-on-1 situation.
"We were not prepared to play this game," a frustrated Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said afterward. "We had a big divisional game against our first- place team. We could have reeled them in, and it looked like from the drop of the puck that we weren't prepared."
Matthias put Florida on the board 2:19 prior to the initial intermission after skating from behind the Panthers net and snapping a low shot that beat a screened Ward on the glove side, but the Panthers were later faced with a four-goal deficit after Carolina struck twice more in the second period.
Nash's first NHL marker came on an aggressive rush up the ice with Patrick Dwyer nearly 5 1/2 minutes elapsed in the middle session, and Staal extended the lead to 5-1 with 6:57 left in the frame. The Carolina captain skated into the crease after collecting a pass from Semin and warded off Panthers defenseman Tyson Strachan to sneak a backhander by Clemmensen.
Kuba ripped a behind-the-net give from Marcel Goc with 45 seconds to go in the period to give Florida a bit of life, but the Panthers never seriously threatened the outcome over the remaining 20 minutes.
Semin again had a hand in the Hurricanes' final goal, with the talented Russian fighting off a check from Goc and sending the puck on net for an awaiting Staal to knock home with just under eight minutes left.
The teams will face one another in South Florida on Sunday ... Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen, out since Feb. 12 with a lower-body injury, returned to the Hurricanes lineup but left after one period after apparently aggravating the ailment ... Panthers forward Scottie Upshall returned to action after sitting out 13 straight games with an ankle injury ... Florida had won six of the last seven matchups between the clubs, including a 5-1 home triumph in the Jan. 19 opener, but are just 6-28-4 all-time at PNC Arena ... Coming into the game, Carolina had been outscored by a 22-8 margin in the first period this season.