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NHL

Florida Panthers miss golden opportunity to clinch playoff spot

MIAMI--The stars that had aligned so nicely for the Florida Panthers over the past several days exploded into the abyss on Tuesday night.

With both the Panthers and Toronto holding commanding 3-0 leads in their games against Winnipeg and Buffalo respectively, everything seemed on track for Florida to make history.

The 'Cats had already received help from the Maple Leafs on Saturday night and then Tampa Bay on Monday night, and could have grabbed the Southeast Division and a ticket to the Stanley Cup show with a win against the Jets.

They also could have found themselves in the playoffs had Toronto defeated the host Sabres on Tuesday.

But it all came crashing down as the skaters from Sunrise and the Maple Leafs both not only surrendered their commanding leads but also wound up losing in overtime.

That means the playoffs remain an elusive goal, at least until Thursday night when the Panthers visit Washington for a huge divisional showdown against the Capitals.

"We haven't made things easy on ourselves all year, and we kept that trend going tonight," the Panthers' Stephen Weiss said after a 5-4 setback to Winnipeg at the BankAtlantic Center.

The only good news was that with the point gained in regulation, Florida can clinch a berth in the post-season tournament with just one more point against either Washington or at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

The opening faceoff in that contest is at 7:30 p.m.

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