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Panthers 4, Capitals 3, SO @NHLdotcom

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Florida Panthers are still fighting to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Joe Nieuwendyk helped the Panthers pick up two more points in the standings Saturday night, scoring the only shootout goal in Florida's 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals.

The win pulled the Panthers within six points of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Florida and Boston both have 65 points after Saturday victories, while Montreal, Atlanta and Toronto, all of whom are ranked higher, suffered losses.

"Right now, we're in the thick of the schedule," Florida coach Jacques Martin said. "We have three home games this week, and they're huge for us. It's up to us to make the most of it."

Nieuwendyk scored in the second round of the shootout, and Florida goalie Roberto Luongo shut out Washington on its three attempts.

"It's nice when you win and you look at the scoreboard, and you're getting some help," Nieuwendyk said. "We battled back hard. They work hard and they're probably as physical as any team we play, so for us to come back is a sign of character."

The Panthers have won all six games with Washington this season, including their only two shootout victories.

Four of Florida's nine road wins this season have been at Washington, and the Panthers are 6-0-1 versus the Capitals in road games during the last two seasons.

Florida has won five of its last six games while trying to earn a playoff spot, but the Panthers are just concentrating on their own business.

"We can't control how the other teams play," Florida center Olli Jokinen said. "But it was a big two points."

Chris Clark had his first three-goal game of his NHL career and Alex Ovechkin had two assists in the loss. Washington has lost five consecutive games.

Florida held a 44-40 edge in shots as both teams had numerous scoring chances.

Luongo finished with 37 saves and also earned his third assist of the season. Washington goalie Olie Kolzig made 40 stops.

"We'll just keep working on the execution," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "Our next step of improvement is to be close to perfect on execution of your systems."

Clark gave Washington a 1-0 lead 4:19 into the game with an assist from Ovechkin. Jonathan Sim tied it for the Panthers a few minutes later.

Ovechkin got a second assist when Clark scored for a 2-1 lead with 4:41 left in the first period. Washington held the lead until Rostislav Olesz and Jay Bouwmeester scored 15 seconds apart to give Florida a 3-2 lead with 5:43 left in the second period.

Bouwmeester didn't score a goal in his first 65 games but has goals in two straight. His shot from left circle tied the game, and Olesz then beat Kolzig after the ensuing faceoff for the 3-2 lead.

But Clark completed the hat trick and tied the game by flipping the rebound of a Mathieu Biron shot over Luongo with 17:56 left.

Notes: Dainius Zubrus had an assist to run his career-best points streak to seven games. ... Clark has scored the first Washington goal nine times this season. ... Luongo started 22 straight games before sitting out Friday night's win over the New York Islanders.

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