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Flyers wrap up playoff berth with win over Panthers

by John Kreiser and John McGourty
The Philadelphia Flyers are going to the playoffs. Their 2-1 victory over Florida at the Wachovia Center on Tuesday night might keep the Panthers from joining them.

The Flyers, who made the conference finals last spring, improved to 97 points with three games remaining. They're tied with the Carolina Hurricanes, who trounced the New York Islanders 9-0 but have only two games remaining. The Flyers passed last season's totals with their 43rd win and 97th point.

The loss dropped the Panthers (89 points) two points behind the New York Rangers, who beat the seventh-place Montreal Canadiens 3-1, in the race for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Rangers and Panthers both have two games remaining and the Rangers have two more victories than the Panthers. Montreal, three points ahead of the Panthers, also has two games to play.

Jeff Carter scored the game-winner and moved into second among NHL goal scorers with his 45th goal at 7:32 of the third period. Scott Hartnell took an elbow to the face while making an outlet pass to Joffrey Lupul from the left boards in his own end. Lupul crossed into the Panthers zone and backhanded a pass out of Carter's reach. Hartnell, racing down the left side, cleared out a Panthers' defender with a check and Carter swept in to pick up the puck. He cut toward the net and beat Tomas Vokoun low on the short side for the unassisted goal.

"If I can score a goal and put us ahead, that's what I'm here for," Carter said. "This is a good feeling. You play all year for a chance to play in the Stanley Cup. The guys in this room want to get home-ice advantage so we still have a lot of work to do in these last three games."

Vokoun said Carter's shot bounced off the outside of his leg.

"I was by the post," he said. "I saw the shot, but as soon as it hit me, I knew it was going in."

The Panthers managed just five shots in the third period, but had a few good chances to tie. Richard Zednik missed on a wraparound attempt at 8:25 and his conversion attempt of a Ville Peltonen pass from the left side was stopped by Martin Biron at 9:50.

Stephen Weiss flubbed a centering pass in front of Biron at 15:25 and later had his tip-in try gloved by Biron. Weiss missed a wraparound with 1:19 remaining, and Biron made the last of his 29 saves when stopped David Booth's dangerous backhander from the lower-right circle in the final seconds to preserve the win.

"Our best period tonight was our third period," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "As the game moved along, I think we got better and better."



The Panthers exposed a Flyers' weakness to score the game's first goal 4:30 into the second period. Defenseman Randy Jones, who had hip surgery last summer and has played with an ailing hip this season, couldn't turn and reach a pass in the neutral zone. Rookie Michael Frolik collected the puck, beat Jones on the rush and centered to Brett McLean, who beat Biron for his seventh goal of the season and second in the past two games against the Flyers.

The Flyers' problems on defense were exacerbated when Ryan Parent left midway through the second period with an upper-body injury and didn't return.

"It was a little bit of a groin tweak," GM Paul Holmgren said. "We'll evaluate him tomorrow. Nobody thinks it's serious."

The Flyers began to control play later in the period and tied the game at 15:45. Defenseman Matt Carle skated the puck down the right side and below the goal line, then centered a pass that went off Lupul's skate as he was being muscled by Karlis Skrastins in the slot. The puck ricocheted off the far post, off Vokoun into the net. After a video review, the goal stood.

The disappointed Panthers still have a chance to make the playoffs, but they'll have to beat Atlanta and Washington and hope for help.

"I don't know, I'm not a statistician," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said about the Panthers' playoff chances. "We have to win our next two games. I think we have a chance to get in."

Penguins 6, Lightning 4 | Video

Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia in clinching a playoff berth, but not without a few nervous moments. Sidney Crosby scored two power-play goals in 64 seconds in a three-goal second period, but the Penguins nearly blew a 4-0 lead before Jordan Staal's empty-netter put the game away.

The sixth-place Penguins now have 95 points, two behind Philadelphia and Carolina, who are tied for fourth and fifth. Pittsburgh and Carolina have two games remaining; Philadelphia has three.

"I think we're all allowed to smile tonight," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said.

After a scoreless first period, Ruslan Fedotenko put Pittsburgh ahead at the 5-minute mark of the second. Crosby made it 2-0 at 10:08, then scored on a breakaway for a three-goal lead after two periods.

Matt Cooke's goal 1:09 into the third period made it 4-0, but the Lightning refused to roll over. Jeff Halpern's shorthanded goal at 4:31 broke up Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout bid, and goals by Martin St. Louis and Paul Szczechura made it 4-3 with half a period left. Petr Sykora made it 5-3 at 11:43 on a goal that came after it appeared that Fedotenko made contact with Lightning goalie Karri Ramo right before the goal, but Tampa Bay interim coach Rick Tocchet's arguments did not sway the officials.

"The ref blew it. Plain and simple," Tocchet said. "We battled hard. We just needed a fighting chance there."

The Lightning kept coming and cut the margin to one goal when Halpern scored with 41 seconds remaining. Fleury had to make a couple of big saves before Staal's empty-netter iced the win.

"We got away from our game and I think we realized pretty quickly no matter who we play against, if we're not playing the right way, we can be beat pretty easily," said Crosby, who reached the 100-point mark but was on the ice for all four Tampa Bay goals and wound up minus-4 for the game. "I think we let up. We had a few big mistakes."

Hurricanes 9, Islanders 0 | Video

Carolina made it nine consecutive wins overall and 12 in a row at home by handing the Islanders the worst loss in franchise history. The Hurricanes outshot the Isles 57-12, the most shots ever allowed by the Islanders, as they scored three times in each period against the NHL's 30th-place team.

Eric Staal had three goals and an assist, Erik Cole and Anton Babchuk each had four assists and the Hurricanes scored four times on 11 power plays -- to just one advantage for the Islanders. The win gives the fifth-place Hurricanes 97 points with two games remaining; Philadelphia, which also has 97 points, is fourth because the Flyers have a game in hand.

"We're playing the right way. We're playing at a high, competitive level, and we're playing like a well-oiled machine," said Staal, who had his team-record fourth hat trick of the season. "When you're confident and when you're doing the right things, you're going to get good results and nights like tonight."

Carolina's nine-game winning streak matched the mark reached twice by the 2005-06 team that won the Stanley Cup. Cam Ward earned his 39th victory, breaking the team record set by that season's starter, Martin Gerber, who won 38 before Ward supplanted him on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy.

"It's great, but the most important thing is that we're playing some good hockey right now," said Ward, who posted his sixth shutout. "We want to be peaking when we go into the playoffs, and now with two games left, it's important that we bear down and have a similar effort like we did tonight. But I thought the veteran guys were exceptional to get everybody prepared. ... We definitely came to the rink ready to play."

The Islanders had never lost by more than eight goals -- and they hadn't done that since losing 8-0 at St. Louis in 1988.

"It was just one of those nights when it seemed nothing was going in the right direction," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said.

Capitals 4, Thrashers 2 | Video

Washington moved within one point of wrapping up second place in the East by completing a home-and-home sweep of the Thrashers despite an effort many of the Caps weren't pleased with.

"We had lots of turnovers," said Alex Ovechkin, who had two assists. "We didn't have lots of emotion or lots of energy."

Sergei Fedorov, who was set up by Ovechkin for a third-period goal that helped put the game away, said he was "not very happy with my performance."

"I wasn't really feeling it with my linemates, so we'll have to regroup and come back with a fresh attitude and try to put the pieces together," Fedorov said.

The Capitals killed off all six Atlanta power plays, but Washington coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't happy with the penalties.

"When you run into all these penalties, you take three in the second and three in the third and that leaves you with only 14 minutes (at full strength)," Boudreau said.

"We've got to find a way to stay out of penalty box.

"It was an ugly win, but it's OK."

Washington got first-period goals by Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin. The Caps led 3-2 midway through the third period when Fedorov jammed in a rebound after Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped Ovechkin's shot.

Rich Peverley scored in the first period and Marty Reasoner in the second for the Thrashers.

"In the first period we were playing pond hockey with one of the most talented teams in the National Hockey League," Atlanta coach John Anderson said.

Maple Leafs 4, Devils 1 | Video

Christian Hanson owns something his famous father doesn't -- an NHL goal. The son of "Slap Shot" star Dave Hanson scored his first NHL goal on, what else, a slap shot, as Toronto spoiled New Jersey's hopes of clinching the Atlantic Division title.

"To be honest I would have taken it any way it would have gone in. Off my head, off my butt, off my skate, and luckily it went off my stick," said Hanson, whose backhander capped a three-goal first period. "I'm sure they were watching it at home and jumped through the roof," said the 23-year-old, who signed with the Maple Leafs last week after finishing his career at Notre Dame.

Martin Gerber, who had allowed 12 goals in his last two games, was a wall against New Jersey, making 47 saves.

"We did a much better job of pushing them away from the net," Gerber said. "It gives you a split second more time and you have a better chance to read the game. That's a big difference from the last two games."

Jamie Langenbrunner's power-play goal with 1:07 left in the second period made it 3-1, but John Mitchell beat Martin Brodeur 1:34 into the third period to restore the Leafs' three-goal lead.

"Their goalie was the difference, there's no way around it," Devils forward Zach Parise said. "We didn't play 60 minutes of the best hockey, but for a lot of the time we did control the play."

The Devils, who've lost seven of nine, can win the division by earning a point in either of their last two regular season games or by having Philadelphia drop a point. The Flyers beat Florida 2-1 on Tuesday night.

"Everybody around us is playing well and we have to figure a way to do the same," Langenbrunner said after the Devils lost despite outshooting Toronto 48-18. "We have two games left and we have to find a way to win both of those."

Senators 3, Bruins 2 | Video

It won't mean anything in the end, but the Senators have become unbeatable at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa won its franchise-record ninth consecutive home game and avoided being swept by Boston, which has clinched first in the East.

Christoph Schubert and Mike Fisher gave the Senators a 2-0 lead after one period, and Dany Heatley made it 3-1 with a power-play goal midway through the second that proved to be the game-winner.

"It's obviously unfortunate we're not in the playoff race, but we've got some things we want to take into next season and this is the way to do it," Senators forward Nick Foligno said. "We want to make sure that we're playing well. It seems that we're doing that right now, at home and on the road, and we just want to continue to do that going into next season."

The Senators, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996, won eight straight at home during the 2002-03 season.

Phil Kessel and Zdeno Chara scored in the second period for the Bruins, who had their six-game winning streak snapped. Marc Savard set up both goals, giving him 60 assists. The Bruins, who clinched first in the East by beating the Rangers on Saturday, started slowly and paid the price.

"The first 10 minutes were a tough 10 minutes for us, and then throughout the game I think it was a matter of we did a lot of good things, and we did a lot of bad things. It was one or the other," coach Claude Julien said. "I didn't find that we were a very consistent team tonight -- our good things were good, our breakdowns were major. Our whole team looked like it was a little bit loose tonight."

Material from wire services was used in this report.


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