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Panthers fail to grow division lead in loss to Blue Jackets

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Associated Press
3/30/2012 11:01:37 PM
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Assured of the worst record in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets met a simple goal with their second straight victory over a playoff team.

Defenceman Nikita Nikitin scored twice and had an assist, R.J. Umberger also had two goals, and Allen York made 30 saves in the Blue Jackets' 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

Nikitin followed a two-assist game in a victory over Detroit on Wednesday night with goals in the second and third periods. Umberger scored in the first and added an empty-netter with 47 seconds to play.

"It's definitely something we talked about, coming off a high like that game against Detroit," Blue Jackets forward Derek Dorsett said. "We definitely wanted to respond."

Tomas Kopecky spoiled Allen York's shutout bid, scoring off a rebound with 7:57 left in the third.

"Once it went in I was thinking, 'Let's win the game,"' York said. "A shutout would be nice but I'm not playing for shutouts, I'm playing for wins."

York made 29 saves against Detroit for his first NHL win in eight games and was stellar against a Florida team that lost in overtime at Minnesota on Thursday night.

"We looked tired for one," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "We looked tight and certainly there were some coaching mistakes that happened that obviously get hung on me. That's the state of things right now."

The Panthers remained four points ahead of Washington in the race for the Southeast Division title. Florida also is four points behind Boston for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson said the team didn't overlook the Jackets.

"Their guys out there are battling for jobs next year, for pride," he said. "They're taking it seriously. No matter where you are in the standings you want to play well."

The Blue Jackets are 13-13-1 in the past 27 games.

"When you look it at, it kind of feels like (the season) is going too fast," Umberger said. "It was a lot of fun tonight and last game was a great effort. We gave the fans something to get excited for. That's what we play for."

Columbus spent 20 per cent of the first period killing penalties yet had the lead on Umberger's goal -- his second in two games -- at 3:41. He played give-and-go and was on the receiving end of the final pass by Derick Brassard that went through the low slot to catch Jose Theodore leaning the other way.

Florida then squandered a two-man advantage for 1:40 of the opening period. The Panthers managed seven shots during the stretch, but York kept his composure and got a key block by defenceman Aaron Johnson.

"It was a great 5-on-3," Florida defenceman," Brian Campbell said. "It was great execution all-around for us. The only part we didn't execute is we have to find ways to score goals."

Nikita scored at 11:48 of the second to make it 2-0.

NOTES: The Panthers failed to pick up at least a point for only the second time in 12 games It was a bitter homecoming for first-year Florida coach Kevin Dineen, an original Blue Jacket in 2000-01. He played 125 games for Columbus over two-plus seasons. ... Nikitin had the first multigoal game of his career. His power-play goal in the second was the Jackets' third in 53 attempts.

R.J. Umberger (Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
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