National Hockey League
Panthers inch closer to playoff spot
National Hockey League

Panthers inch closer to playoff spot

Published Mar. 29, 2009 5:28 a.m. ET

With a difficult three-game trip behind them, the Florida Panthers hope to benefit from a favorable home schedule in the final two weeks of the season.

Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton each scored in the final minute of the second period, and the Panthers beat the reeling Dallas Stars 6-3 Saturday night.

The Panthers, who play four of their final six games at home, moved within a point of Montreal for eighth place in the Eastern Conference after completing a 2-1 road trip.

Florida opens a three-game homestand Tuesday. The first two games are against Ottawa and Atlanta, clubs on the outside of the playoff picture.

"We wanted to get two of three on this trip, and we got them," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got three home games and we've got to take care of business. Hopefully at the end of the day we'll look up and be in."

Florida's road trip got off a rocky start when the Panthers blew a two-goal lead in the third in a loss to Buffalo on Wednesday.

DeBoer decided to start backup goalie Craig Anderson in place of Tomas Vokoun, and Anderson responded with 40 saves in a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday.

After stopping 14 Stars shots in the first to keep the game close, Anderson finished with 32 saves to help the Panthers continue a push for their first playoff appearance since 2000.

"I knew I was putting him in a tough situation," DeBoer said. "He's shown his character. I think the guys see that and have responded for him."

The Stars have lost six straight (0-5-1) and have slipped six points out of the eighth in the West with seven games remaining.

Mike Ribeiro, who had a hat trick against Florida on Jan. 21, had a goal and assist. Marty Turco stopped 27 shots for the Stars.

One season after falling two wins shy of the Stanley Cup finals, Dallas is in danger of missing the playoffs for just the second time in 12 seasons.

"There's no time to wait around and see what other teams are going to do," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "All we can control is how we play and start winning games."

Weiss took a pass on the right side and beat Turco to tie it at 2 with 59.5 seconds remaining in the second.

On a scramble in front, Horton flipped a shot over the sprawling Turco to give the Panthers the lead with 6.2 seconds left.

Florida added to its cushion in the opening minute of the third. Kamil Kreps scored on a backhander from the slot to put the Panthers on top 4-2.

"Dallas had the momentum basically for the first half of the game," Anderson said. "But we slowly took it over. When you string a couple together, it takes the wind out of the other team's sails."

After Chris Conner's goal brought the Stars within 4-3, Jay Bouwmeester had a power-play tally, and Radek Dvorak scored an empty-net goal.

"We'd gone through a bit of a down stretch, so this was big," Bouwmeester said. "With six games left, we have to basically win all of them to control our own destiny."

Ribeiro picked up a loose puck and lifted it over Anderson's shoulder for a 1-0 lead at 4:23 of the first. It was Ribeiro's 20th goal of the season, the third time in his career he's hit the mark.

Cory Stillman, who had a goal and two assists, tied it 1-1 in the second period before the Stars regained the lead.

Ribeiro dropped a cross-ice pass to Niskanen, who drove in a one-timer from the top of the left circle at 9:41 to give the Stars a 2-1 edge.


Stars D Trevor Daley (lower body injury) didn't play, snapping his streak of 157 games. ... Dallas D Mark Fistric (upper body injury) left after the first period and didn't return. ... The Panthers hadn't played in Dallas since Dec. 7, 2005. ... Stillman scored his 250th NHL goal.


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