BY GEORGE RICHARDS
DENVER – Five times this season the Florida Panthers have won three straight games. They've yet to extend their marginal winning streaks to four.
And that's one of many reasons why the Panthers will not be part of the Stanley Cup playoffs for an NHL record-tying ninth straight season and record-breaking 10th year.
Thursday, former Florida goalie Craig Anderson hammered yet another nail in the Panthers 2009-10 coffin as he stopped 27 shots to beat his old mates 3-0 in front of a sparse crowd at Pepsi Center.
The shutout was Anderson's seventh of the season and 14th of his career.
“This was disappointing. They were the better team,'' Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “The result was deserved. Both goaltenders played well. We didn't give ours enough support.''
The Panthers continue to claim they are in a playoff chase, and mathematically, they are. Barely. After Boston and Montreal each won on Thursday, the Panthers slipped to eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
To add to the points problem, Florida has three teams sitting in front jamming things up. The Panthers only have 16 games remaining and need to go on a long winning streak to have any chance of making the playoffs – and they have yet to prove they can do that.
Losing streaks are another story. The team has had four losing streaks of four games or more this season. The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round of the 2000 postseason.
The Panthers are running out of daylight – and have a new suitor joining them in their “race.” Carolina, which started the season with losses in 16 of its first 18 games, won on Thursday and now are tied with the Panthers in overall points with 64.
“[Thursday] isn't what put us in this position,'' defenseman Keith Ballard said. “You look back through the year and losing six or seven in a row, or not showing up some nights. We put ourselves in this position. But until the numbers say we're out of it, we're not going with the mentality that we're out of it.''
Colorado, meanwhile, is in a legitimate playoff fight and needed a win Thursday to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. Former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson has been instrumental in helping the Avs rise up from the conference cellar – where they resided last season – and into the thick of the postseason conversation.
Anderson, who started his 22nd straight game on Thursday, didn't get challenged by his former teammates very much in the early going. The Panthers went half of the opening period before registering their first shot of the night, and ended up taking just five shots in the opening period.
The Avs got a huge lift from Paul Stastny five minutes into the second period when he knocked a loose puck past Tomas Vokoun at 4:54. Vokoun went into the second break down 2-0 as Stastny scored a second goal with 4:39 left in the period. The Panthers put themselves in a tough spot as Cory Stillman (serving a bench minor) and Radek Dvorak (roughing) both went into the penalty box to give the Avs a 5-on-3 advantage.
Stillman had just come out of the bin when Stastny – camped out and by himself along the goal line – snapped a shot off a Chris Stewart pass into the net.
Anderson made two good saves on Stephen Weiss in the first six minutes of the third and ended up stopping 13 in the final 20 minutes. Anderson was able to relax with 3:34 left when Matt Hendricks drove in and beat Vokoun for the Avs third goal as the Panthers were slow to get back on defense – bringing sharp words from Vokoun to his bench.
The Panthers have been shutout seven times – five since the start of 2010.
“Both goalies were good,'' said DeBoer. “We didn't do enough for our guy.''
-- Weiss was seen coming out of the X-ray room at Pepsi Center following the game. He said he was OK but looked to be in pain.