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Panthers inch toward playoffs; Shootout loss is worth a point

DETROIT -- The Florida Panthers are inching toward their first division title -- one point at a time.

Tomas Fleischmann scored in the first period and Scott Clemmensen made 31 saves, helping the Panthers hold off Detroit for 65 minutes before losing 2-1 in a shootout. The Red Wings came away with the victory, but Florida secured a valuable point to move three ahead of second-place Washington in the Southeast Division.

"Nothing's been given to us this year, and that's the fun part of it," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "This is what we've been playing for -- to be a big part of the conversation as we move down the stretch."

Detroit's Jiri Hudler scored with 14:30 remaining in the third period and again in the shootout. Pavel Datsyuk also scored in the shootout for Detroit, and Kris Versteeg missed high on Florida's last attempt.

The Panthers play at Washington on Thursday night, but might not have to win that game to take the division. Florida also leads ninth-place Buffalo by five points in the conference standings, so the Panthers are on the verge of clinching their first playoff spot since 2000.

Five of Florida's last six games have gone at least to overtime, and the Panthers have an NHL-high 17 losses in overtimes or shootouts.

"Obviously, we'd like to score more goals," Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said. "The ball is in our court. Obviously as far as the division, it's in our hands."

Detroit moved a point ahead of Nashville and Chicago in the race for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

"I think Florida is a good team. We knew it was going to be tight, not a whole lot of room out there," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They did a good job through the neutral zone and I thought they were tenacious."

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