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Strong power play lifts Panthers to record-tying 7th straight win

SUNRISE, Fla. - Florida's power play was too much for Atlanta, again.

Olli Jokinen and Rostislav Olesz scored with the man advantage and the Panthers tied a franchise record with their seventh consecutive victory, 3-1 over the Thrashers on Sunday night.

"On my goal it was the guy screening and I hit the net; the second one was a breakout we've been practising all year," Jokinen said. "I think it's just having everybody on the same page."

The Panthers finished 2-for-5 on the power play, compared to Atlanta's 0-for-4 effort. Florida went 3-for-4 with the man advantage in beating the Thrashers 3-2 in a shootout March 8.

The Panthers, who also won seven in a row in the 1995-96 and 2005-06 seasons, haven't lost since they were beaten by Minnesota 3-2 on Feb. 29.

"This is the time of year when you want to play this type of hockey and you want to be finding ways to win, and that's what we're doing," said Brett McLean, who assisted on both power-play goals. "I think it's real important for us not to get overconfident and to make sure we're at our best for 60 minutes each night."

Radek Dvorak, who was a rookie on that 1995-96 Panthers team, had the other Florida goal.

Jokinen added an assist, and McLean extended his point streak to six games with the two assists. He has four goals and six assists during the run.

The Panthers are only two points behind eighth-place Philadelphia and the post-season cutoff in the Eastern Conference.

"We're still not there," Florida coach Jacques Martin said. "We still have some catching up to do. That's why we can't afford to lose."

Ilya Kovalchuk scored for Atlanta, which has lost nine straight on the road and 12 of 14 overall.

Atlanta outshot Florida 30-25, the first time in 24 games the Thrashers held an edge.

"I thought we played pretty hard," said Thrashers wing Eric Boulton, who was involved in two fights. "They re fighting for their playoff lives and we gave them a good run for their money. We outshot them tonight and that's the first time we've done that in a while. We're going right to the end.

All-Star Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves for Florida, and Johan Hedberg finished with 22.

Vokoun saved his best work for the third period, when the Thrashers outshot Florida 12-5.

"Vokoun was our best player again," Jokinen said. "He made the big saves in the third period."

After Dvorak gave Florida a 1-0 lead with his first goal since Jan. 15, Jokinen made it 2-0 with his second in two games after an eight-game scoreless streak.

He took a short pass near the boards before firing a slapshot from just outside the circle that beat Hedberg to the stick side.

"I think my shot never would have gone in if Mac (McLean) and Olesz wouldn't have been in front," Jokinen said. "It takes all five guys to score goals. I think on every goal we were doing that."

It was the second consecutive game-winner for Jokinen, whose third-period goal gave the Panthers a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers Friday night.

"You look at his performance the last couple of games, it's certainly been better than before," Martin said. "At this time of year you need that. You need to have your best players be your best players. That helps you win hockey games."

Kovalchuk scored his 49th of the season exactly a minute into the second period to cut Florida's lead in half. He tipped in Bryan Little's pass from the side of the net.

Olesz restored Florida's two-goal lead 17 seconds into the third when he one-timed Jokinen's pass across the crease.

"It was a great boost for our hockey club," Dvorak said of Olesz's goal. "That's huge. We won the game because of that. Great win for us, and we'll see if we can keep rolling."

Notes: Florida D Bryan Allen sat out because of a hand injury sustained Friday when he was checked into the boards from behind by Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan. ... Florida D Branislav Mezei replaced Allen in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous four games. ... Atlanta C Todd White missed his sixth consecutive game because of a shoulder injury. ... After hitting the post twice against the Rangers on Friday, Olesz did it again in the first period. ... Atlanta hadn't held a shots advantage since a 31-24 edge over Edmonton on Jan. 20 in a 4-2 loss. ... Atlanta C Erik Christensen left the game in the third period because of a sprained knee. Coach Don Waddell said after the game Christensen was day to day.


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