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Panthers rebound with 4-2 win over Flyers

by John Kreiser
Craig Anderson's first game in nearly a month came just in time to keep the Florida Panthers' playoff hopes alive.

Anderson hadn't played since March 1, but he got the call Thursday night in Philadelphia, one night after Tomas Vokoun couldn't hold a 3-1 third-period lead in what turned into a 5-3 loss at Buffalo. All he did was make 40 saves as the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Flyers.

"I had an idea last night, but it got finalized (Thursday) morning," Anderson said. "I just came in for a couple of shots this morning, got myself ready and I think the guys did a terrific job in front of me. It was a solid defensive effort."

The victory gives the Panthers 83 points, keeping them two behind eighth-place Montreal in the East. The Canadiens have played one fewer game Anderson hadn't played since March 1 at Washington, but he was sharp throughout for the Panthers, who came in averaging an NHL-worst 34.6 shots against per game.

"It keeps you in the game, it keeps you fresh, it keeps your mind out of it," he said of the high volume of shots. "It's just a read-and-react game then." Panthers coach Peter DeBoer turned to Anderson after criticizing Vokoun for being unable to hold the lead in Buffalo.

"The other guy hadn't been getting it done for us," he said of Vokoun. "We had been in this position earlier in the year and made a change. The team responded, and Craig responded."

The loss left the Flyers fourth in the East with 90 points, but just one point ahead of Carolina, two in front of Pittsburgh and three ahead of the New York Rangers. Jeff Carter got his 41st goal and Scott Hartnell also scored for Philadelphia, which had won three in a row.



"We did a lot of things right," said Biron, who made 24 saves. "We missed a lot of chances. I think we played well at times. We just made too many mistakes, and they took advantage."

Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak scored for the Panthers, but Florida wasted a pair of one-goal leads before Brett McLean put the Panthers ahead to stay by banging a rebound past Martin Biron after a turnover by Andrew Alberts. David Booth added a power-play goal into an empty net with 33 seconds remaining.

"You have to give them credit," said Flyers center Danny Briere, who assisted on Hartnell's goal at 19:56 of the second period that tied the game 2-2. "They played a little better and we didn't play as well. Sometimes, that happens."

Canadiens 3, Lightning 2 (OT) | Video

Montreal saw a two-goal lead disappear in the third period against the lowly Lightning, but salvaged the night when Saku Koivu swatted home the winning goal 1:45 into overtime to keep the Canadiens alone in eighth place in the East.

Montreal won its second in a row after a five-game losing streak and stayed two points ahead of Florida for the final playoff spot.

But it wasn't easy.

The Canadiens appeared to be comfortably in front when Guillaume Latendresse beat Karri Ramo 5:48 into the third period for a 2-0 lead. But David Koci scored the first goal of his NHL career off a scramble at 10:26, and Lukas Krajicek's long wrist shot ticked off a Montreal defender and went past Carey Price at 14:43.

"I didn't like the way we lost the 2-0 lead," Koivu said.

"But I felt with the way we played and the chances we were getting, we'd get a goal. We played a good team game. We'd like to have won 2-0 and got the confidence from that, but we'll take it."

Koivu saved the day when he capped a half-minute of furious pressure by putting a rebound off a body and into the net after Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis had knocked down his first attempt during a wild goal-mouth scramble.

"I saw the net was wide open and maybe I got too excited about it," Koivu said. "I think I hit his glove, but then I got the rebound and I just wanted to get it in. I think it hit someone."

Said a dejected St. Louis: "I was on my knees and couldn't poke-check the puck or anything."

Ramo was the only reason the Lightning left the Bell Centre with a point. The Bolts were outshot 36-19 -- the first time this season Montreal held an opponent under 20 shots -- but Ramo allowed only Latendresse's goal and a first-period power-play goal by Alex Kovalev. The Canadiens outshot Tampa Bay 11-2 in the opening period and 13-6 in the second.

"Preferably, we could have kept the lead, but I like the way we played," Canadiens coach/GM Bob Gainey said. "We need the points -- that's important. "But the most important thing is we were reliable and consistent throughout the game."

The Lightning continued their season-long struggles in games that go past regulation. Tampa Bay fell to 5-17 in games that are decided in overtime or shootouts.

Thrashers 5, Rangers 4 (SO) | Video

Like the Canadiens, the Rangers couldn't hang onto a two-goal lead in the third period and went into overtime. Unlike Montreal, they couldn't find a way to win. Todd White's goal in the sixth round of the shootout cost New York a potentially valuable point.

Despite a generally sloppy effort, the Rangers took advantage of Atlanta's parade to the penalty box and actually led 4-1 late in the second period. But Ilya Kovalchuk scored with 21 seconds left to cut the margin to two -- and energize the Thrashers.

"You never like giving those up late in a period, but we’re up two goals and feeling pretty good coming out of that second period," Rangers defenseman Wade Redden said. "We had chances still to put it away up 4-2, but didn’t do it. And that came back to haunt us."

Atlanta made it a one-goal game on Colby Armstrong's goal 3:30 into the third, killed off a long 5-on-3 disadvantage, then tied the score with 6:50 left in regulation when Kovalchuk raced into the Rangers' zone, drew the defense to him and found White all alone in the slot for a quick wrist shot past Steve Valiquette.

"Kovalchuk was on his game tonight, and he was, I guess, the difference maker in the game," said Valiquette, who made 26 saves. “He was better than all of our guys and myself, certainly."

After Valiquette and Atlanta's Johan Hedberg each stopped five shootout attempts, White zipped a forehand past Valiquette and Hedberg stuffed a wrist shot by Scott Gomez for the win.

"We don’t have a lot to play for," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "But we owe our fans, and even ourselves, a solid effort no matter what happens. We went out and played as hard as we could, and we got a couple of goals."

The single point left the seventh-place Rangers with 87, two ahead of Montreal and four in front of ninth-place Florida. It also left coach John Tortorella furious.

"I think we (stunk)," he told the brief post-game media gathering. "I think we were fortunate to get one point."

Until Kovalchuk began to dominate, it looked like the Rangers would escape with two points. Nikolai Zherdev scored 18:34 into the game to put New York ahead, and after Slava Kozlov's goal early in the second, the Rangers scored three in a row to take charge.

Nik Antropov's deflection during a 4-on-3 power play at 11:04 put New York back in front, and Chris Drury scored a 5-on-4 goal when he beat Hedberg with a blast from the right circle at 12:29. Markus Naslund put the Rangers up by three when he jammed home Drury's rebound at 17:59.

But they couldn't hang on against the Thrashers, who've been officially eliminated from the playoff race.

"Playing a loose team like this is not the easiest thing to deal with, and a lot of teams have had troubles dealing with Atlanta recently," Valiquette said. "We had our problems and our difficulties because they were playing so loose, while we’re pressing and trying to get out points."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report



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