Slide hurting Panthers’ playoff chances

By Mike Lipka
Stats Writer

Florida (35-28-11) at Philadelphia (40-22-10) 7:00 p.m. EDT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As the streaking Philadelphia Flyers close
in on a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the ice-cold
Florida Panthers appear to be squandering their chances of
playing in the postseason.

The Panthers will be in desperate need of a victory in
Philadelphia on Thursday night, less than 24 hours after a late
meltdown dealt another blow to their hopes of ending a nine-year
playoff drought.

Florida’s 1-4-3 stretch over the last few weeks took an ugly
turn Wednesday night, when the team coughed up a two-goal lead
in a 2:07 span in the third period, eventually losing 5-3 to

The Panthers also showed their frustration in a lengthy m??l??e
after the Sabres sealed the game with an empty-netter in the
final minute. Florida lost its third straight game overall and
remained two points behind eighth-place Montreal with eight
games to play, while the Canadiens have nine games left.

“I don’t have an answer,” Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe said.
“Obviously, we picked a bad time of the year to start blowing
leads. We have to find a way to remedy that.”

Holding a 1-0 lead against Columbus on Saturday, Florida also
yielded three goals in just over two minutes to lose 3-1.

On Wednesday, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer didn’t sugarcoat his
feelings on his club’s latest collapse, pointing the finger
directly at goaltender Tomas Vokoun after he gave up three goals
on 20 shots in the third period.

“We need a big save at a critical time in the third period to
win a game. I don’t think we’ve gotten one lately,” DeBoer said.
“You can’t let (the loss) be devastating. The goalie’s got to
close the door when you’re in that situation. You know what? He

It’s unclear if backup Craig Anderson will be in net Thursday,
but either way the Panthers will try to do a better job of
preventing shots. They allowed 45 shots on goal Wednesday,
raising their league-worst average to 34.6 per game.

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While Florida stumbles, the Flyers could be getting hot at the
right time, having won three straight games to solidify their
hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They lead
fifth-place Carolina by one point, but they have four games in
hand on the Hurricanes.

The three consecutive victories have come on the heels of a
4-5-1 stretch that had Philadelphia in danger of losing home-ice
advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The most impressive win during their run may have come Monday
night, when the Flyers beat New Jersey, 4-2, handing Devils
goalie Martin Brodeur just his third loss in 12 starts since
returning from biceps surgery.

Jeff Carter scored his 40th goal to break a 2-2 tie in the third
period and Simon Gagne added his 30th as insurance, while Martin
Biron made 32 saves. Biron is 7-3-0 with a 1.98 goals-against
average in his last 11 appearances.

“We really feel like we’re starting to get into that groove,”
Carter said. “We’re playing solid D, Marty’s standing on his
head making saves when we need them and guys are leaving it all
out there.”

Center Danny Briere had a goal and an assist against New Jersey
and is finally contributing toward the end of an injury-ravaged

A 70-point scorer last season, Briere had played in just nine
games before the month of March due to groin problems, and he
was held without a point in his first seven games back. But the
veteran now has three goals and two assists in his last three