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Panthers Can't Catch the Predators, Lose 3-1 ... SouthLeast Race Heats up as Lightning Just Four Back of Cats

PredBY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

The Panthers were desperate to forget about Thursday's lopsided loss in Winnipeg and get back to playing winning hockey at home. 

Even though Florida definitely played better on Saturday night, they didn't play well enough as Nashville left BankAtlantic Center with a 3-1 win. The Panthers continue to lead a Southeast Division no one seems to want to take control of, holding a two-point advantage on a Jets team that beat them 7-0 on Thursday. 

Tampa Bay, which was so far out of things its general manager declared the team was a seller prior to the trade deadline, won again Saturday and is now just
Lightningfour points back of the Panthers. Florida and the Lightning don't play again this season. Florida has lost two straight and six of the past nine.

“At this time of year goals are tough to get but we need to start getting them,'' said Shawn Matthias, whose team has averaged just one goal in their past six losses.

“One goal isn't getting the job done. We have a push right now and need to get the puck in the net. We have to get hungry this time of year.'' 

Nashville, which holds the fifth spot in the Western Conference with 11 more points than the Panthers, didn't create many chances in the opening period but took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Andrei Kostitsyn – picked up from Montreal on Monday – on Nashville’s third shot of the night. 

The Predators made it 2-0 early in the second when Mike Fisher scored. Florida countered at 7:49 of the period when Wojtek Wolski got his second goal since joining the Panthers last weekend on a slick feed from Tomas Fleischmann. 

Yet that was all Florida's offense could muster as Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne remains red hot. Rinne, who made 39 saves, hasn't given up three goals in his previous eight starts.

Florida's Scott Clemmensen, who made 20 saves, surrendered a third goal midway through the final period when David Legwand picked up a loose puck at center ice and walked in on Clemmensen and beat him five-hole.

“We made [Rinne] work, but there's a reason why he's the one of the best in the league,'' said Jerred Smithson, traded to the Panthers from Nashville just a few days back. “Sometimes you have have to tip your hat. He's a great goalie and they played great in front of him.''

That was all Nashville needed as it has now won five of seven and is well on its way to its seventh postseason berth in the past eight seasons. Florida's postseason hopes are in decent enough shape – but it desperately needs to get back to winning some games. Ottawa, which has owned the Panthers the past few seasons, visits Sunday evening. 

“Certainly Pekka Rinne earns his keep every time he steps on the ice,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He had a heck of a game. Look at some of the chances we had and he came up big. He seems to do that each and every game.''

--The Panthers recalled defenseman Tyson Strachan on Friday to replace Ed Jovanovski in the lineup. Jovanovski said the Panthers talked to him days ago regarding having him sit out one of the two upcoming games for “maintenance.''

Jovanovski says he's playing Sunday.

Belak--A Panthers ice crew member wore a Wade Belak jersey on Saturday to honor the late enforcer who retired with the Predators after last season.

Belak, who spent parts of two seasons with the Panthers, committed suicide over the summer. 

SUNDAY: SENATORS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 6 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM-560

The series: Ottawa leads 42-26-3

The game: The Panthers have struggled against Ottawa of late as the Senators have won five straight n Sunrise and nine straight overall against Florida. Ottawa, 3-0 against the Cats this season, are without goalie Craig Anderson because of a hand injury. The surging Sens, seventh in the east coming into Saturday, have won six of their past eight including a 6-2 pasting of the Panthers on Feb. 15. 

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