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SPOILER ALERT: Panthers Help Coyotes by Stunning Stars 3-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For weeks, the Panthers talked about wanting to spoil another team's run to the playoffs.

Sunday they may have just done so.

The Dallas Stars still hold the final wild card spot in the Western Conference although Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center is one they may really regret -- especially if they are sitting outside the Stanley Cup playoffs this time next week.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy,'' said Dallas' Jamie Benn, who made it 1-0 just 45 seconds into the game.

"We have to put this one behind us. It was a terrible outcome. We don't want to remember this one.''

On Sunday, Florida's biggest fans were the Phoenix Coyotes who remain a point back of the Stars.

Florida definitely helped that cause as the Panthers won both meetings with the Stars this season. Of four points Dallas could have against Florida, it took home none. Phoenix, meanwhile, got all four of its points against the Panthers.

"This time of year is fun if you're in the race,'' said Scottie Upshall, who scored Florida's first goal and became the team's leading scorer in the process.

"The games are hyped up, everyone is watching because there is a lot on the line. There's nothing better than playoff hockey. Right now is as good of a taste of it that will get. This is a learning curve for our younger players. Dallas was fighting for their lives.''

Everything was going Dallas' way after winning in Tampa on Saturday night.

The Stars had a 2-0 lead early in the second period and the Panthers -- who had lost five straight -- didn't seem all that interested in playing.

Coach Peter Horachek wasn't very happy as Dallas scored in the opening minute of the first and second periods and let his team know it during a timeout after an Upshall penalty 3:48 into the second.

"They were playing with a purpose and a resolve,'' Horachek said, "and I don't think we were. We were just playing and there wasn't enough emotion. I wanted them to care more about the end result.''

The Panthers most definitely responded as the plane shifted.

Florida began dictating play and finally gave its fans something to cheer about.

Upshall cut Dallas' lead in half by getting a piece of a big shot from Erik Gudbranson at the 8:20 mark of the second. In the final minute of the period, Brandon Pirri slid into the slot and one-timed a slick feed from Jimmy Hayes and put it past Kari Lehtonen to tie the score.

"We showed a lot of resiliency, battled back and dominated the second half of the game,'' said Pirri, who has six goals since joining the Panthers just before the March 5 trade deadline.

"We're trying to build off that the last three games.''

The two teams played even hockey in the third with the Stars understandably not wanting to make a mistake and give up the go-ahead goal.

Florida, with nothing to lose, seemed to play the same way.

"I wanted us to be smart and keep doing the right things,'' Horachek said. "This was a huge win for us emotionally. We responded after a lethargic first period.''

The Panthers did get that go-ahead goal, however, with 4:31 remaining as Sean Bergenheim scored off a pass from Colby Robak.

Bergenheim admitted he didn't know who the Panthers were helping in the playoff race initially, but asked and found out the answer.

"This is probably a big blow for Dallas,'' Bergenheim said. "For me personally, I don't care who is fighting for what. You have to play the best you can every game. Whetever happens to the other teams in the standings, I don't really care.''

THOMAS SITS

The Stars, as has been the case for the past nine games, went with Lehtonen in goal over Tim Thomas.

Thomas was Florida's goalie when the Panthers won their season-opener at Dallas in October, although much more than that has changed since.

The Panthers were missing 13 of the 20 players who were part of Florida's 4-2 win in Dallas. Florida also replaced most of its coaching staff since then.

Of Florida's four goals scored in Dallas, only one -- the initial goal by Scott Gomez -- came from a player still on the roster.

Roberto Luongo, who replaced Thomas as Florida's starting goalie, made 35 saves in the win.

 

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