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Panthers take 8th in East with 2-1 win over Habs

by John Kreiser
One goal was picture-perfect. One was ugly. But to Shawn Mattias and the Florida Panthers, both were things of beauty.

Mattias tied the game by beating Jaroslav Halak on a penalty shot 3:01 into the third period, then pushed in a rebound with 7:01 to play to give the Panthers a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, moving Florida into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

''It's an important two points,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. ''They beat us out on a technicality for a playoff spot last year, a percentage point. They've beaten us two times previously. We knew it was going to be a close, low-scoring game. I really liked the way we stuck to the game plan. I thought we really limited their chances.''

Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun, starting his 13th consecutive game, faced only 17 shots and improved to 3-1-1 in his last five games, a span during which he's allowed just three goals. Tomas Plekanec's power-play goal late in the second period was the only shot to beat him.

''We got outworked tonight, they were more determined than us, and we had some very poor execution,'' said Montreal coach Jacques Martin, who left his job as the Panthers general manager last summer to coach the Canadiens. ''You're winning the hockey game 1-0 in the third period, and a bad turnover in the offensive zone, that's not acceptable.''

Matthias tied it when he beat Jaroslav Halak with a high wrist shot for the Panthers' first penalty-shot goal since last Jan. 29.

''I was just thinking about not embarrassing myself,'' Matthias said.

"'I was excited. I really wanted to take it. I felt comfortable with the move I was going to pull and the goalie bit on it and I got lucky and put it upstairs.''

The Panthers went ahead to stay when Halak blocked Mattias' first shot, but Matthias nudged home the rebound.

''It was a nice garbage goal,'' Matthias said. ''That's what you have to do, I guess. ... We'll take it and we'll take the win.''

Kings 5, Maple Leafs 3 | HIGHLIGHTS

The Kings improved to 2-0 on their five-game Eastern trip as captain Dustin Brown set up three second-period goals and Jonathan Quick made 25 saves to hand the Leafs their fourth consecutive loss.

Brown "played fantastic for us tonight,'' said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who also had a goal and an assist. ''That's why he's our captain, he's our leader. When he's playing his best, he leads the way and we all follow.''

The Kings broke open a 1-1 game when Jack Johnson, Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth all beat Gustavsson in the second period. Brown's best assist came on Stoll's goal -- he stripped the puck from Leafs forward Wayne Primeau along the side boards, raced to the net and dished the puck to a wide-open Stoll for the goal.

''I thought we kept a pretty good game plan,'' Brown said. ''No one really overextended themselves trying to do too much, which can happen in a building like this.''
Niklas Hagman scored twice for Toronto, and Jonas Gustavsson stopped 28 shots.

''It is frustrating to have opportunities you can't finish off,'' coach Ron Wilson said. ''That wasn't what was frustrating tonight. It was losing battles, and losing races to pucks. And that's the frustrating part.''

Blue Jackets 3, Predators 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Columbus built a three-goal lead and held on to beat the Predators, who've owned the Blue Jackets over the past three-plus seasons.

Derick Brassard scored at 16:10 of the second period, and goals by Kristian Huselius and Fredrik Modin 39 seconds apart in the third period gave the Jackets a seemingly safe 3-0 lead with 11 minutes left.

Goals by Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist got the Predators close, but Steve Mason,  playing in his 100th NHL game, made several big stops down in the final minutes, including one on Hornqvist's redirect in the final minute. He also smothered an earlier shot by J.P. Dumont.

"This happens so much against that team, sometimes I think you expect bad things to happen," Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Something bad has happened to us a lot, but it didn't this time, so it's a good sign. We needed to get into the 50's and join the crowd. We had a real slow start and we just got better and better. After their first goal, we got tight, but I thought we hung in there today."

The Predators had gone 22-2-2 against the Blue Jackets since the start of the 2006-07 season, including wins in the previous five meetings. Instead, they were frustrated after their fourth consecutive loss.

'We've got to get production from our top guys,'' Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. ''If you're a scorer you've got to score. You've just got to execute because right now we're playing well but not well enough to win.''

The Preds know they've got to get things turned around before they drop out of the top eight in the West.

"Something has to be done," forward Steve Sullivan said. "Four in a row. We are starting to feel the heat now from behind us in the standings. We are not as comfortable now as we were a week ago. We have to find a way to get some wins."

Thrashers 2, Ducks 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

Atlanta's work on the power play paid off when Maxim Afinogenov scored with the extra man 4:03 into the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie -- and the Thrashers' 0-for-13 drought.

''The nice thing was that it was a power-play goal that won it for us,'' coach John Anderson said. ''We talked about the importance of getting one goal a game on the power play. It really makes a difference.''

Anaheim had killed 21 of its last 23 penalties before Afinogenov's shot from the right circle went through Jonas Hiller's legs.

''Before the game we spoke about we wanted the power play to get going and how it's going to win the game,'' Afinogenov said. ''We just tried to shoot more and I think it's working. We got a couple of shots.

''The puck was bouncing there for me. I just tried to put it into the net and it worked
Colby Armstrong gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead early in the second period when he scored on a rebound after Hiller stopped shots by Evander Kane and Ron Hainsey. Defenseman Steve Eminger tied it with 2:02 remaining in the period.

That was the only shot to get past Johan Hedberg, who stopped 34 shots. Hiller made 32 saves.

''He played well enough to keep us in the game,'' Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf said of Hiller. ''It's frustrating. Maybe we over-handled the puck a little bit.''

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