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Panthers 3, Capitals 2 @NHLdotcom

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Panthers are starting to believe that they can make the playoffs.

Jon Sim, Jozef Stumpel and Joe Nieuwendyk scored goals and Roberto Luongo made 28 saves to lead Florida to its first four-game winning streak of the season with a 3-2 victory over Washington on Wednesday night.

The Panthers trail Atlanta by five points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Each game we win we get closer and closer," Stumpel said. "We still have hope and we will keep pushing."

Brian Willsie and Dainius Zubrus scored for the Capitals and Brent Johnson made 37 saves.

Washington has now lost seven straight games. It was their seventh consecutive loss to Florida this season. Six of those were by one goal, including two shootouts.

"We squeaked out a few against them," Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn said. "Maybe it is a little lucky that we pulled this one out again."

The Capitals trailed by two goals heading into the final period, but Zubrus beat Loungo on a backhanded shot at 8:00. Washington could never get the equalizer.

"It's not the Panthers that tire you, it's the losing during the whole season," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "You have to guard against becoming morally down."

Florida took a 3-1 lead after scoring three power-play goals in the second. Nieuwendyk passed from the left circle to Stumpel on the right side. Stumpel shot the puck under Johnson's legs at 6:03. At 8:26, Sim jumped on a rebound of a Chris Gratton shot and slid the puck between Johnson's legs.

"The puck was laying there and I just batted it in," Sim said. "This is a huge two points for us. Every game now is the biggest game of the year."

The Panthers had tied the score 1-1 just 35 seconds into the second on a five-on-three power play goal by Nieuwendyk. Stumpel passed from the left circle and found Nieuwendyk to the right of the crease where he poked in the puck.

"We had lots of shots on the net," Nieuwendyk said. "Anytime we had a chance we put the puck to the net. The hockey gods were on our side tonight."

Washington took a 1-0 lead during a five-on-three power play in the first period. Jeff Halpern's shot bounced off the post and across the crease and Willsie pushed the puck into the open net at 18:16.

Washington was on a power play during the last 1:45 of the game and pulled the goalie.

"We had our chance with a six-on-four at the end to score a goal," Zubrus said. "It was in our hands to tie it up."

Notes: Stumpel has 17 points in his last nine games. ... Sim has seven goals in five games against the Capitals this season. ... Florida defensemen have 17 points (five goals and 12 assists) in the past eight games. ... Willsie is the only Capitals player to play in every game this season.

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