Carolina Hurricanes left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky (23), of Ukraine, knocks down Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (47) as they chase a loose puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O\'Meara)
TAMPA, Fla. - The Carolina Hurricanes turned a great start into a rare division win.
Jiri Tlusty had two goals and an assist, Tuomo Ruutu added a goal and two assists, and the Hurricanes beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Thursday night.
Tlusty scored twice during Carolina's four-goal first, helping the Hurricanes take a 4-1 lead.
Carolina improved to 2-7-2 in Southeast Division games this season.
"I don't think we played a better period this year," Tlusty said. "It was a great period."
Jay Harrison and Tim Brent also scored for the Hurricanes, who had lost four of five. Eric Staal had three assists, giving him 301 in his career.
"We were on their D," Staal said. "We were aggressive. We were on the attack. We were initiating plays, and we were rewarded with some goals. "
Tampa Bay got goals from Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell. The Lightning have lost five straight (0-4-1).
"I would say this is the hardest one to take this year," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "We always talk about attitude first, work ethic and then discipline, and in the first period we had none of those."
The Lightning were coming off a 5-4 shootout loss—in which they trailed 4-2 entering the third—to the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
"You know what, we get up for the big games against the big teams," Boucher said. "I don't think we're being very respectful to teams like Carolina, or anybody else that is a little bit lower in the standings than the top-three teams in the conference. We can't have that, period. We're not in a position to think that we're better than any other team."
Carolina went up 2-0 when Ruutu scored from the low slot 3:27 into the game, and Tlusty added a rebound goal 1 minute, 14 seconds later.
After Thompson put home a backhand during a breakaway at 14:36 of the first, Harrison got the goal back just 34 seconds later.
Tlusty scored his second of the game to make it 4-1 at 16:18 of the first. A video review confirmed that Staal's pass, which deflected off Tlusty, entered the net before it became dislodged.
Tampa Bay goalie Mathieu Garon, who allowed three goals on eight shots, was replaced by Dwayne Roloson after Harrison's goal.
Purcell cut the Lightning deficit to 4-2 at 2:49 of the second. Carolina goalie Cam Ward stopped 17 of 18 shots during the period.
"We need him to make those saves at the right times, and he did that tonight, which is great," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said.
Ward finished with 34 saves.
Carolina extended its advantage to 5-2 on Brent's goal at 13:41 of the third. Harrison assisted on the goal. Harrison also had a first-period fight against Ryan Malone.
Notes: Carolina C Jeff Skinner, who has missed 15 games because of a concussion, is practicing with the team and could return soon. ... The Lightning have been outscored 50-30 this season in the first period. ... Staal has seven assists and eight points during a four-game point streak. ... Tampa Bay D Eric Brewer played in his 800th NHL game. ... Carolina RW Chad LaRose sat out his second consecutive game due to an upper-body injury. ... The Hurricanes recalled D Derek Joslin from a conditioning assignment with Charlotte of the AHL. ... Ruutu was plus-4 for the game.