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Panthers stay in the hunt by beating Ottawa 5-2

by John Kreiser
One week after their playoff dreams apparently died with a heartbreaking loss in Buffalo, the Florida Panthers' postseason hopes are alive and well -- largely thanks to goaltender Craig Anderson.

Anderson stopped 30 shots for his third consecutive victory and the Panthers capitalized on both ends of a double-minor penalty to Ottawa's Brenden Bell on the way to a 5-2 victory over the Senators on Tuesday night. The two points kept the ninth-place Panthers within one point of eighth-place Montreal in the East and just two points behind the seventh-place New York Rangers as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Anderson got the call last Thursday in Philadelphia, one night after Tomas Vokoun couldn't hold a 3-1 lead at Buffalo. He's been brilliant in leading his team to three consecutive wins after a 1-4-3 slide dropped the Panthers out of the top eight in the East.

"It's been a great opportunity," he said. "The guys are rising to the occasion. They're getting some big goals and I'm stopping the puck."

The game was tied 1-1 when Bell was called for a double minor at 16:01 for high-sticking Nathan Horton, and the Panthers made the Senators pay. Richard Zednik broke the tie at 17:18 when he pushed the puck through goaltender Brian Elliott's pads after Elliott stopped his first shot from the side of the net. Just 66 seconds later, Bryan McCabe's slap shot from the high slot went off Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov and trickled into the net to make it 3-1.

It was Florida's third consecutive game with two power-play goals. Before the Panthers' three-game winning streak started with a 4-2 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday, Florida had converted just two of 24 power-play chances in eight games.

"It's nice to get a couple of power-play goals," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "The power play has been a work in progress all year. We've been getting pucks to the net, getting our noses dirty and getting rewarded."

Stephen Weiss gave Florida a three-goal lead at 2:02 of the final period when he deflected David Booth's shot into the net. Ottawa defenseman Chris Campoli scored with 6:33 remaining, Florida but rookie Michael Frolik got his 20th of the season by hitting the empty net with 1:32 remaining.

Anderson also made 12 stops in the third period, most of which was spent in Florida's zone.

"I thought Andy did a great job shutting the door for us in the third period," DeBoer said. "They came at us with everything in the third with nothing to lose. Those are tough situations to handle as a team, and your goaltender has to shut the door. He did that for us. Tonight he was right on and he allowed us to regain our composure in the third period."

While the Panthers stayed in the playoff hunt, the 11th-place Senators were officially eliminated from postseason play for the first time since 1995-96. It's been a big tumble for a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final just two years ago.

''It's not something that snuck up on us,'' Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said. ''We've known this situation for a long time. Our focus hasn't been only on trying to get into the playoffs, it's been on turning things around, which we definitely have, and now it's a matter of trying to keep our momentum and keep playing.

"Even though we didn't win today, we did a lot of great things and we've got to keep that going until the end of the season.''

Bruins 3, Lightning 1 | Video

The Bruins ended March on an upswing, winning their fourth in a row to move within four points of wrapping up first place in the West. Even better was the fact that backup goaltender Manny Fernandez stopped 24 shots for his second win in a row after a personal five-game losing streak.

"Guys have got to feel confident, no matter what happens, that another goalie can help them win," said Fernandez, who lost his shutout bid when No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos scored his 20th of the season with 7:53 left in regulation. "I've got to make sure my game is there, whenever I come in."

Both Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew reached the 20-goal mark, giving the Bruins eight 20-goal scorers. Defenseman Zdeno Chara had his career-high 17th as the Bruins increased their point total to 108, nine more than second-place Washington. Boston could wrap up first place and the home-ice edge through the first three rounds as early as this weekend.

"We've looked each other in the eye, and from here on out we'll let the personal stats take a hike," Fernandez said. "What's important are the two points every night."

Wheeler backhanded a shot past Mike McKenna with 5:57 left in the first period to give Boston a 1-0 lead after one period. In the second, the Bruins got a pair of power-play goals just as the penalized Lightning players were settling into the box.

Chara one-timed Patrice Bergeron's pass behind McKenna at 6:56, just 25 seconds into Evgeny Artyukhin's high-sticking penalty. Kobasew's redirection of Chara's point shot at 13:35 came 19 seconds after Richard Petiot was called for hooking.

"If you're trying to top Z's shot -- it's pretty tough," Kobasew said of Chara, the winner of the hardest shot competition during the skills competition at All-Star Weekend. "They come in pretty good."

Stamkos' 20th goal was one of the few things that went right for the Lightning, who've lost seven of eight and aren't making their coach very happy.

"You'd like to keep teaching and look for players that want to compete in the NHL. It makes your job easier when you see guys that are not competing," Rick Tocchet said. "It's the same kinds of things: We're not winning battles."

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

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