The long-awaited win over a division rival put the Hurricanes alone on top of the Southeast.
"If you're going to be on top of your division, you have to beat the teams in your division," Carolina 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."
Coming into the game, Carolina was 0-5 against its Southeast rivals and 10-3-1 against the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Florida goalie Jose Theodore left the game 2:22 into the first period after he appeared to injure his right leg. Scott Clemmensen replaced him and made 27 saves.
Theodore was hurt during a 2-on-1 rush by the Hurricanes. He crumpled to the ice after he kicked out his right pad to stop Jokinen. The Panthers said Theodore, who struggled with knee trouble much of last season, sustained an undisclosed lower body injury.
"It's going to be a while," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was pretty sore on the ice, and it wasn't much better off (it)."
"You can blame it on injuries," Dineen said. "To me, that's the ultimate cop-out. We were not prepared to play this game. We had a big divisional game against our first-place team -- we could have reeled them in. It looked like from the drop of the puck we weren't prepared."
Carolina got Joni Pitkanen back in the lineup Saturday after he missed seven games because of a lower body injury. But he left the game after just one period and didn't return.
The Hurricanes jumped on Clemmensen about 4 minutes after Theodore's injury, scoring three goals in 3:05.
Jokinen got things started with a quick wrist shot from the left circle that beat Clemmensen over his glove hand.
A little more than 2 minutes later, Semin found Tlusty in the high slot for a wrist shot that caromed in off the post.
Jokinen added his second goal less than a minute later when Nash found him wide open in the slot. Jokinen's wrist shot slipped through Clemmensen's pads.
Matthias got Florida back within two goals before the end of the period, but Nash's first career goal built Carolina's lead back to three early in the second. Nash finished off a pass from Patrick Dwyer on a 2-on-1 break to make it 4-1.
Staal scored the Hurricanes' final two goals off passes from Semin.
The teams will meet again on Sunday night in Florida.
"Any time you can beat a divisional opponent it's huge," Faulk said. "It was nice to get our first divisional win this year, and it came at a good time."
Carolina's Tim Brent sat out because of a lower body injury. ... Panthers C Stephen Weiss was ejected in the third period after fighting Justin Faulk. Weiss was also given a penalty for elbowing on the play.
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RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 2: The crowd trickles into PNC Arena as Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes...