Torres tallies twice as Jackets edge Panthers

SUNRISE, Florida (AP) — Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped
shot after shot on Saturday night, holding Columbus scoreless
through two periods and much of the third. But the Blue Jackets
never felt the game was lost, and with just minutes to go, Raffi
Torres proved them right.

“I don’t think at any point we thought the game was over. On the
bench, we kept saying, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come,
it’s going to come,'” said Torres, who scored twice late in the
third to give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 victory.

Torres scored his first goal of the night with 2:46 remaining in
the third. He tied it at 1 and ruined Vokoun’s bid for his
seventh shutout of the season.

Then with just 1:33 left, Torres scored on a wrist shot to put
Columbus up 2-1. Antoine Vermette added an empty-net goal with
19 seconds left.

“Look, we’ve been leaning on the same guys game in and game out,
and some other guys came through tonight,” Columbus coach Ken
Hitchcock said. “And I think that’s what good teams do, you get
new heroes. That’s exactly what happened today.”

Rostislav Olesz scored his first goal since November 1 for
Florida, which lost for the fifth time in six games.

“I really thought we did a lot of things well tonight, other
than win,” Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “I don’t have an
answer. We’re not putting up any white flags, there’s a lot of
hockey left.”

Steve Mason made 22 saves for the Blue Jackets, playing in South
Florida for the first time since a 5-4 overtime win over the
Panthers on January 14, 2006.

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Vokoun stopped 34 shots.

It was an important game for both teams, who are each jockeying
for playoff spots in their respective conferences.

The Blue Jackets have never made the playoffs since entering the
NHL in 2000-01. With just a few weeks remaining, however, they
seem poised to make their inaugural trip to the postseason.

Columbus entered the game in sixth place in the Western
Conference, and moved within three points of fifth-place Chicago
with the win. The Blue Jackets, coming off a 4-3 overtime win
over Chicago on Wednesday, also set a franchise record for
points in a season with 82, beating last season’s mark of 80.

“This is huge right now,” Torres said. “It shows a lot about our
team. We just kind of stick with it. We’re learning now how to
win games.”

The Panthers, who will end a five-game homestand Monday against
Carolina, are ninth in the Eastern Conference, a point behind
Montreal. They have not been to the playoffs since 2000.

“All losses sting,” DeBoer said. “Obviously, the way we lost
makes it sting a little more. But at the end of the day, a loss
is a loss. We just have to keep moving forward.”

Olesz put Florida up 1-0 with 4:29 left in the first period.
Mason couldn’t control Nick Tarnasky’s shot, which trickled
between his pads and slowly moved across the crease. Olesz, who
missed 43 games this season and underwent surgery for a sports
hernia earlier this year, fought off a Columbus defender to put
the loose puck into the net.