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Ending a long scoreless streak against one of the Eastern Conference's best teams also could go a long way toward the Florida Panthers making their first playoff appearance in seven years.
The Panthers (31-29-13) will try to end their goal-scoring drought against the Ottawa Senators and avoid a season-series sweep as the two teams meet on Thursday night.
Florida's last goal against Ottawa (43-23-8) came Nov. 24 when Gary Roberts - since traded to Pittsburgh - scored on the power play at 3:29 of the third period of a 6-4 loss. The Panthers have since failed to score in 136 minutes, 31 seconds against Senators goaltenders Ray Emery and Martin Gerber.
Emery made 14 of his 31 saves in the third period of a 6-0 victory on Nov. 30 for the first of his five shutouts this season. Gerber was dominant in the first period of a 4-0 win on Feb. 14, stopping 15 shots en route to a 28-save performance for his only shutout since joining Ottawa after winning the Stanley Cup with Carolina last year.
Florida also has dropped nine of its last 10 at home to the Senators since January 2001.
The Panthers haven't made the playoffs since being swept by New Jersey in the East quarterfinals in 2000. With 75 points and nine games remaining, Florida is in 12th place in the East but only five points behind Montreal, Carolina and Toronto - all tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. The New York Islanders are 11th with 79 points.
"Our team continues to play very well during this final stretch of the regular season," center and leading scorer Olli Jokinen said on the Panthers' official Web site. "We are still in the playoff hunt with some important home games coming up where we have played well all season long."
Jokinen has scored 24 of his 34 goals at the BankAtlantic Center, where Florida is 21-11-4. He needs five more overall to surpass his career high of 38 set last season.
The Finnish native established career highs with two goals and four assists Saturday in an 8-5 win over the New York Islanders, and followed that with his seventh game-winning goal in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday night to complete a season-series sweep.
"Our chances are getting slimmer and slimmer, that's the bottom line," Jokinen said. "You start running out of games. Every game is big for us. There is no room for errors right now, at this point of the year."
Ottawa has 94 points and starts play seven points behind Northeast Division-leading Buffalo, but the Senators have played one more game than the Sabres and will not meet them again in the regular season.
Dany Heatley has paced Ottawa in its season series with Florida, scoring five goals and adding three assists in the Senators' three wins. Heatley, who leads the team with 42 goals, is eight points shy of reaching 100 for the second straight season.
The Senators, who are playing the third game of a four-game road swing, are coming off a 4-2 win over St. Louis on Tuesday night. Antoine Vermette's short-handed goal - the Senators' second of the game - snapped a 2-all tie early in the third period.
Mike Fisher also scored with Ottawa down a man, Vermette had two assists for a career-high three points and Chris Kelly added an empty-net goal and an assist.