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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.

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.


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