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Florida looking to stick in East race even after team-record winning streak snapped @NHLdotcom

Seven straight wins tied Florida's franchise-record streak and got the team back into the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference.

A shootout loss ended the run and put a crimp in the Panthers' postseason plans.

That's the trouble with building a big hole in the early stages of the season. When teams finally put things together and get rolling, one little hiccup can be enough to throw things off track. Sometimes so much energy is spent just getting back into the hunt, that there is little left to complete the job.

Evidence of that can be seen on a daily basis in the NCAA tournament when those No. 14 and 15 seeds try to pull off those big first-round upsets.

Florida had the third seven-game winning streak in franchise history broken Thursday night when it fell 2-1 in a shootout to Southeast Division-leading Carolina. It left the Panthers two points and three places behind No. 8 Philadelphia and the playoff cutoff.

With two weeks left in the regular season, the Panthers had seven games remaining to try to close the difference.

Tomas Vokoun has done his part to pace the run, earning NHL third star honors for his efforts last week. The veteran goalie, in his first season with the Panthers following eight with Nashville, was 3-0 last week.

"Obviously with this season coming down pretty fast, there was not really much room for error for us if you look at the standings," Vokoun said. "The team started realizing that, and we have been playing a lot better defensively.

"We are in the bad position. We're playing catch-up, and obviously we need help from somebody not to do well. You look at where we were a little while ago, and we definitely need help from somebody. If everybody would keep winning then there's no way you can catch them."


WHAT A RALLY: If the Buffalo Sabres make the playoffs, they will surely have their amazing comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to thank for it.

The Sabres, who have been stuck in ninth place and on the outside of the Eastern Conference postseason race for quite some time, were well on the way to blowing a chance for a key two points against the last-place Lightning.

Buffalo was behind 4-1 at home Wednesday night with just under 15 minutes left, but the Sabres stormed back with six goals to win 7-4. That was only the fifth time in NHL history that a team won by at least three goals after trailing by at least three in the third period. The last club to pull that off was the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 1, 1989, also in a 7-4 win, against the Winnipeg Jets.

In another bit of quirkiness, the Sabres' comeback was fueled by Thomas Vanek's three straight goals. Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg also scored three consecutive times in the final period of the Red Wings' victory over Columbus, marking the third time there were two third-period natural hat tricks on the same day.

The first time it happened was Jan. 16, 1919, when the Montreal's Didier Pitre and Ottawa's Jack Darragh did it in the same game. It didn't occur again until Oct. 12, 2006, when New Jersey's Brian Gionta broke out in the third period against Toronto, and Edmonton's Ryan Smyth did the same versus San Jose.


ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Senators' 3-2 home victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday was the final interconference game on the NHL schedule.

Starting with Friday night's six-game slate, the remaining 113 games over the final 17 days of the regular season will be played within the Eastern and Western Conferences. Only one game will match up teams from different divisions, the April 2 meeting in New Jersey between the host Devils and the Boston Bruins.

The New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Phoenix Coyotes entered the weekend with an NHL-best 17 wins within their respective divisions. Boston, Edmonton and Los Angeles were tied with a league-low nine victories.


SHOOTING THE LIGHTS OUT: Nothing in Nigel Dawes' game suggested that the New York Rangers' rookie would become arguably the team's biggest shootout weapon.

There is no doubt that now he is.

Dawes scored the lone shootout goal for the second time this season, and gave the Rangers a come-from-behind victory at New Jersey on Wednesday. After starting 0-for-1 in shootouts, Dawes scored in four of five.

Not bad when you can fake out Martin Brodeur with the game on the line.

"For me, if I overthink it, I usually don't score," Dawes said. "I think I was 0-for-4 in the minors at the start of the year. Getting the first one a couple of weeks ago was nice. I think it's a confidence thing.

"You can't really overthink it because too many things go through your head and you don't really know what to do."

Dawes usually beats goalies with a quick fake and a quicker counter move. No matter the plan, he has earned the trust of coach Tom Renney, who has installed the 23-year-old forward as the regular second shooter behind Brendan Shanahan.

"It hasn't always been there, but it's just kind of the way things are going now," said Dawes, who entered the weekend with 61 career games of NHL experience. "I feel confident doing them right now, and they're getting in."


GAME ON ... TV: The quickly growing NHL Network took another step forward this week when it teamed with XM Satellite Radio to simulcast the daily talk radio program "NHL Live."

The hockey-themed program is the first XM Radio show to be shown every day on a television network, and it can be seen in the United States and Canada.

It made its debut Monday with a two-hour telecast emanating from the NHL's new store in New York.

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