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Stars blow two-goal lead, lose to Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Looking to wrap up a successful road trip and more importantly move closer to a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Dallas Stars let one slip away Sunday.

Sean Bergenheim broke a 2-2 tie with 4:31 left in regulation and the Florida Panthers rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit to beat the Stars 3-2 at BB&T?Center.

Dallas entered the game one point ahead of the idle Phoenix Coyotes for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Each team has four games remaining and will face each other in Phoenix in the regular-season finale next Sunday. The Stars finished their season-long five-game road trip with a 3-2-0 record, including a 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

"Tough points to lose,"???Stars forward Tyler Seguin said. "It wasn't a good game for us. No excuses, even though it was back-to-back. We expect better. At this point in the year, being tired is just a mental thing. We're not going to use fatigue as an excuse. We've got to find a way to get points."

Brandon Pirri had a goal and an assist and Scottie Upshall scored for the Panthers, who won for the second time in their past 10 games. Roberto Luongo finished with 35 saves.

Florida swept the two-game season series after also winning 4-2 at Dallas on Oct. 3. Eight players in Florida's lineup Sunday played in the game at American Airlines Center.

Tim Thomas, who started for Florida on Oct. 3, was Lehtonen's backup on Sunday after being traded to the Stars in the wake of the deal that brought Luongo back to the Panthers.

"It's been a long year,"???Upshall said. "It's been 79 games since we faced these guys. These seasons as you get older go by fast. You want to take advantage every time you get on the ice. We have three more to focus on, all big games. All will be crucial games, something to look for."

Seguin had a goal and an assist for the Stars (38-29-11), and Jamie Benn scored in the first minute for the second consecutive game. Trevor Daley had two assists and Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves in his ninth consecutive start in net.

"He's been playing great,"???Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Lehtonen. "There's nothing Kari could have done on any of the goals."

Bergenheim scored his second goal in 14 games, and the only goal of the third period, when he redirected a pass from defenseman Colby Robak in front of the net.

"It's probably a big blow for Dallas,"???Bergenheim said. "It's their thing. Personally, I don't really care much who's fighting for what. You've got to be playing the best you can every single game and whatever happens in the standings for the other teams, I don't really care."

A???little more than a minute before Bergenheim's goal, Benn missed a great chance to give Dallas the lead when his shot into an open net from a sharp angle went through the crease. Benn had another great chance in the final minute, but Luongo made a nice pad save on his redirection.

"We tried hard to win the game in the third period,"???Ruff said. "We had some good opportunities. Benn just before [the game-winning goal], I think Luongo got a piece of it and it went out the other side. We just didn't manage the puck good enough on the entrance and it cost us."

After scoring 40 seconds into the game Saturday, Benn opened the scoring at 45 seconds against the Panthers. After poking the puck ahead of Dmitry Kulikov, he got in front of the defenseman and after being hooked slid the puck between Luongo's legs for his 33rd goal of the season.

Seguin made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the second period toward the end of a double-minor penalty assessed to Bergenheim for high-sticking Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Seguin's wrist shot from the left circle went in off the stick of defenseman Ed Jovanovski.

Seguin has scored in four consecutive games and now has a team-leading 36 goals.

Up 2-0, Ruff called a timeout early in the second period before his team went on a power play and Florida interim coach Peter Horachek took advantage of the opportunity to tell his players he wasn't happy about their play up to that point.

"Obviously, they're playing for their lives,"?????????Horachek said. "They're playing with a purpose and a resolve and I didn't think we were. I think we were just playing and there wasn't enough emotion and I wanted our guys to care more with both the result and end result. So I wanted their energy to come back up and us to play harder."

Florida began its comeback at 8:20 with its own goal off a deflection. Erik Gudbranson's seemingly harmless wrist shot from the point first went off the stick of Seguin and then off the leg of Upshall.

Pirri tied it at 2 with 56.6 seconds left in the second with his third goal in four games when his one-timer from the slot beat Lehtonen high to the blocker side.

While the Panthers prepare to conclude the regular season with three more home games, the Stars will look to put the loss at Florida behind them when they play host to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday in the first of three consecutive home games before the potential showdown at Phoenix.

"We're prepared, we know what is ahead of us,"?????????Benn said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy, they're not going to give us these games. We have to put this one behind us. It was obviously a terrible outcome [and] we don't want to remember this one. We have a day off tomorrow and we'll come back ready to play."

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