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While the Florida Panthers have a hold on one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, they are feeling the same sense of urgency as the St. Louis Blues, who are sitting outside the postseason picture in the West.
With both teams looking to end lengthy postseason droughts, the Blues and Panthers meet Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center for the first time in more than three years.
Just five points separate fourth through 10th place in the East, and Florida (33-24-8) is in the middle of the pack with 74 points, tied with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh for sixth. Those three are one point behind Montreal and one point ahead of Buffalo and Carolina, which are tied for ninth.
"There's not a team on our schedule we can take lightly or have a letdown against," coach Peter DeBoer told the Panthers' official Web site. "Every game you beat the San Jose Sharks and you lose to a team beneath you, you wind up in the same spot at the end of the day. That's two points out of two games, and that's not enough to make it. We have to play above .500 here."
The Panthers, who haven't reached the playoffs since 2000, are looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since a shootout loss to Buffalo and a regulation defeat to Dallas on Jan. 19 and 21. They failed in a bid to win their third straight Thursday, falling 4-1 to the Penguins after scoring a combined 10 goals in the previous two games.
Tomas Vokoun, who is expected to start his 500th career game Saturday, gave up three third-period goals after Radek Dvorak opened the scoring late in the second period. The Panthers were outshot 47-32.
"We looked like a team that came off a nine-day road trip," DeBoer said. "We hung in there for a little while and Tomas gave us a chance to hang around, but the better team won. We got what we deserved."
Vokoun had won six of his previous eight starts, during which he had a 1.73 goals-against average. He hasn't lost consecutive starts since late December and is 7-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a shutout in his last seven games against St. Louis (29-27-8).
The Blues, however, come in having won four of their last five, including a 4-3 overtime victory at Tampa Bay on Friday.
"St. Louis is a dangerous team," DeBoer said. "They're one of the hottest teams in the league over the last 20 games."
The Blues are trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2004. They are 12th in the West with 66 points, four behind Nashville, Columbus and Dallas - all tied for sixth in the conference.
On Friday, Brad Boyes scored 27 seconds into overtime after recording two assists during regulation. Boyes, St. Louis' leader with 26 goals and 54 points, had gone eight games without a goal.
"These are big points for us," said coach Andy Murray, whose team is 9-3-3 since Feb. 3. "We have the second-best record in the NHL in the last 20 games, so yeah, there's been a sense of urgency there."
The Blues beat the Panthers 4-0 on Oct. 25 behind two goals from Boyes. This is the first meeting at the BankAtlantic Center since Florida's 3-1 win Jan. 12, 2006.