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Panthers hand Avalanche third straight loss

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- It looks like new coach Peter Horachek has breathed new life into the Florida Panthers, and the Colorado Avalanche have suddenly fallen on hard times.

The Panthers played a strong all-round game Saturday at Pepsi Center to defeat the slumping Avalanche 4-1 for their second win in the past three games and first road victory since a season-opening win Oct. 3 against the Dallas Stars.

Goalie Tim Thomas made 32 saves for his 200th NHL win, Brian Campbell had a goal and an assist, and Tom Gilbert chipped in with three assists for the Panthers, who have gone 2-3-0 since Horachek replaced Kevin Dineen as coach Nov. 8.

"We actually got the lead," Thomas said. "We haven't had the lead very often, but when we have had it, we've played pretty well. We play very composed with the lead, and that's a good sign. It's been our goal at times this year. The last thing we need is to have problems in that area. The last five games, the effort's been there -- maybe not for the full 60 minutes but for a good chunk of it."

The Avalanche have allowed the first goal in three consecutive games, lost all three and fallen into third place in the Central Division, behind the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. Chicago visits Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

Making matters worse, the Avalanche lost leading scorer Matt Duchene early in the third period to an oblique muscle ailment. He will be reevaluated Sunday.

"We have to stay positive, there's no doubt about it," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "But I hate to lose a game like this in front of our fans. They deserve better than this from our part. To me, effort is not a problem. I don't like our focus. We made some poor decisions without the puck and in our positioning. I thought our defensive coverage was not as good as it should have been.

"We have to go back to basics and make sure that we are better with our sticks in our zone, and behind the net we got beat to the front. Hey, listen, it's good for me to see that. It's a nice learning process, and it helps us to evaluate our players and know where some of our guys are."

The Panthers used second-period goals by Campbell and Tomas Kopecky to take a 3-1 lead into the third period, making it the second time this season they led after two periods.

"The best thing is we got off to a better start," Campbell said. "Coach emphasizes that. It's nice playing that way, working hard for each other and making sure we're getting pucks out. It's nice playing with a lead. It's a good feeling, and that's what you want all the time."

Jonathan Huberdeau closed out the scoring at 12:16 of the third during a scramble in front of Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.

Kopecky skated in alone on Varlamov and slid a backhand shot between his pads at 13:53 of the second to make it 3-1. Kopecky scored two seconds after the Panthers' fifth consecutive power play of the game expired.

Campbell gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead at 1:15 on the second half of a power play that started at 17:39 of the first period when the Avalanche's Nate Guenin was assessed a double minor for high sticking Huberdeau, who was cut near his mouth.

Campbell ripped a shot from the left point for his third goal of the season, all of them coming in the past four games.

The Panthers came into the game in a 1-for-20 slump on the power play in the past six games.

"We moved it around better tonight, changed up a few things," Campbell said. "It's frustrating because we've been top 10 the past few years and not a lot has changed."

Said Horachek: "We changed a couple of things with the pairings up top and showed them some video on how we wanted to attack. They managed it very well; we got some chances. You could really say three goals were directly responsible from the power play."

Roy changed his top three line combinations at 7:00 of the second period, and the move paid off when Ryan O'Reilly scored at 7:23, cutting the Panthers' lead to 2-1. O'Reilly, skating with John Mitchell and PA Parenteau, moved into the right circle and scored as Mitchell drove to the net.

The Avalanche had a couple of good chances after that, but Gabriel Landeskog shot wide from the slot and Thomas made a save against Nathan MacKinnon.

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead at 12:40 of the first period on goal by Brad Boyes, who was in tight on the right side when he accepted a pass from Scottie Upshall and shot the puck by Varlamov's glove.

The goal came eight seconds after the Avalanche finished killing off Parenteau's hooking penalty.

"It was a tough call, but it is what it is," Parenteau said. "They scored just when I got out of the penalty box. It was a tough break, but we can't take those penalties as a team. We talked about it. In the future, we're going to try not to take them."

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