The Florida Panthers
' run to their first playoff berth since 2000 hit a pothole Friday night.
Defenseman Nikita Nikitin
scored twice and had an assist, R.J. Umberger
also had two goals, and rookie Allen York
made 30 saves as the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets
' beat Florida 4-1 on Friday night, keeping the Panthers from moving closer to clinching a playoff berth.
Florida, which avoided a shutout when Tomas Kopecky
scored on a rebound with 7:57 left in regulation, still leads Washington by four points in the race for first in the Southeast Division and is four points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo, a 5-3 loser to Pittsburgh on Friday.
But it was the second loss in as many nights for the Panthers against a non-playoff team. They were less than a minute away from winning in Minnesota on Thursday, only to have the Wild score with 30.3 seconds remaining in regulation and win in overtime.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson
said the Panthers didn't look past the last-place Blue Jackets.
"Their guys out there are battling for jobs next year, for pride," he said. "They're taking it seriously. No matter where you are in the standings you want to play well."
The Panthers didn't get anywhere near that close this time as Nikitin followed a two-assist game in a victory over Detroit on Wednesday night with goals in the second and third periods. Umberger scored in the first period and added an empty-netter with 47 seconds to play.
"We looked tired for one," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "We looked tight and certainly there were some coaching mistakes that happened that obviously get hung on me. That's the state of things right now."
York, who made 29 saves against Detroit for his first NHL win on Wednesday, was stellar against Florida as the Blue Jackets, assured of the worst record in the NHL, improved to 13-13-1 in their past 27 games.
Columbus spent 20 percent of the first period killing penalties yet left the ice with the lead on Umberger's goal -- his second in two games -- at 3:41. He played give-and-go with Derick Brassard
and took a pass in the low slot before catching Jose Theodore
leaning the other way.
Florida then failed to capitalize on a two-man advantage for 1:40 of the opening period. The Panthers managed seven shots but York stopped them all and got a key block by defenseman Aaron Johnson
"It was a great 5-on-3," Florida defenseman Brian Campbell
said. "It was great execution all-around for us. The only part we didn't execute is we have to find ways to score goals."
The Blue Jackets made it 2-0 at 11:48 of the second on Nikitin's power-play wrister. Nikitin took a pass from Mark Letestu
along the blue line and fired through a pile of bodies. He made it 3-0 at 3:01 of the third with his seventh of the season, giving the Jackets some breathing room before Kopecky's goal.
York said he wasn't worried about losing the shutout.
"Once it went in I was thinking, 'Let's win the game,"' York said. "A shutout would be nice but I'm not playing for shutouts, I'm playing for wins."
The Panthers have a much-needed day off before finishing a four-game trip with a stop in Detroit on Sunday before playing two of their last three at home. Campbell, a member of Chicago's Cup-winning team in 2010, said the Panthers can't think about the points that have gotten away.
"You got to trust each other and play," he said. "You can't play scared. Nobody's a good player playing that way. We got four games left to pour it on. Everybody knows what's at stake."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report