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David Booth scores hat trick to lead Panthers past Blues 5-3

SUNRISE, Fla. - David Booth sure knows how to get out of a scoring slump.

Booth had three goals and an assist, and the Florida Panthers beat the St. Louis Blues 5-3 on Saturday night to move into fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Booth came into the game with one goal in his last 15 games before recording his second hat trick of the season. His first came Nov. 9 at Anaheim after he went into that game with one goal in 11 games.

"You have to keep working hard and eventually they'll go in," said Booth, who leads Florida with 24 goals. "You play with great players and they'll find you."

Nathan Horton and Radek Dvorak also scored for the Panthers, a point ahead of sixth-place Montreal. Florida, coming off a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, hasn't lost back-to-back games in regulation since the end of December.

"We'll enjoy it for tonight," Florida coach Pete DeBoer said of his team's move in the standings. "The way the conference is going to flip-flop back and forth for the next three or four weeks we're not going to throw any parties when we're in fifth and we're not going to have any funerals if we fall to eighth or ninth. That's how this is going to go for the next few weeks. It's nice to be in the middle of it."

David Backes scored twice for St. Louis, which lost in regulation for only the second time in 11 games (7-2-2). Brad Boyes also scored.

The Blues, 12th in the Western Conference, missed a chance to move into a three-way tie for ninth place.

Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun made 26 saves in his 500th NHL game.

"It was a kind of weird game, but we won so it's a nice milestone to play this long in the league," Vokoun said. "It's nice to get to this number."

Vokoun beat his former backup in Nashville, Chris Mason, who stopped 30 shots in his 16th consecutive start for the Blues.

"It's the first time we played against each other," Mason said. "It was kind of a weird feeling. It made for a little extra concentration. But it was kind of an awkward feeling."

The teams split the season series. The Blues won 4-0 at St. Louis on Oct. 25.

Booth's first goal gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead at 13:46 of the first period. He scored on the power play with a backhand rebound from close range after Keith Ballard fired a wrist shot from the point.

Booth again gave the Panthers a two-goal lead at 5:58 of the second period. With the teams skating 4-on-4, he took a pass from Michael Frolik, faked a shot, then skated around Carlo Colaiacovo before beating Mason with a wrist shot to the glove side.

With Florida clinging to a one-goal lead, Booth completed his second hat trick of the season with 2:26 left in the third period, tapping home Richard Zednik's feed on a 2-on-1.

"Zednik made an unbelievable play on that third goal," DeBoer said. "Talk about an unselfish play and a great play in splitting the defence like he did. Nice things are happening. David always works out of it; he's been in a mini-slump and it's nice to see him break through."

Booth set up Horton's goal, which opened the scoring at 5:32 of the first, with a beautiful backhand pass from the boards. Horton ended up alone on Mason and waited for Mason to go down before flipping a shot over his left shoulder.

St. Louis, coming off a 4-3 overtime victory at Tampa Bay on Friday, looked sluggish at the start. The Blues were outshot 14-3 in the first 14 minutes.

"We've got to play with a sense of urgency, a sense of desperation at all times," said Blues coach Andy Murray. "We didn't have that at the start. The way we played in the second half of the game just magnified that problem. I realize it's back-to-back games, but that's the schedule the National Hockey League put together, so you've got to deal with it."

Backes got St. Louis on the board at 3:48 of the second after he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and came in on a 2-on-1. Backes beat Vokoun with a wrist shot that found its way between Vokoun's left arm and his body.

After Dvorak made it 4-1 at 18:15 of the second with a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle, Backes got St. Louis within two goals with only 13.2 seconds remaining in the second period.

Brad Winchester attempted to stuff the puck in from behind the net and B.J. Crombeen came crashing to the net. With a pile-up in the crease, the puck slid along the goal line before Backes tapped it in.

Boyes made it 4-3 with a power-play goal at 1:52 of the third period.

"We took it to them for a lot of the third period," said Murray. "We had pucks that were going through the goal crease. We were a lot closer to the 4-4 than they were to the 5-3 when they got it."

Notes: Vokoun became the seventh active goalie, and the 53rd overall, to play in 500 games. The other active goalies with 500 games are Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph, Olaf Kolzig, Chris Osgood, Nikolai Khabibulin and Roberto Luongo. ... Florida improved to 24-1-1 when leading after two periods. ... Florida D Bryan McCabe left the ice bleeding after a Backes wrist shot hit him in the face in the first period, but he returned after a few minutes. ... The game was St. Louis' last against an Eastern Conference team this season. The Blues' remaining 17 games are against teams from the Western Conference.


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