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DENVER (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The Eastern Conference playoff race is tightening up as we enter the final six weeks of the season.

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The Florida Panthers are trying to hold off intrastate rival Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division as they continue their five-game road trip with a visit to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.

The Panthers improved to 1-1-1 on their trek with a 3-2 victory at Winnipeg on Tuesday to maintain a two-point edge over the Lightning.

Colorado was busy at Monday’s trade deadline, acquiring forward Mikkel Boedker from Arizona and defenseman Eric Gelinas from New Jersey, but their debuts were spoiled by a 6-3 loss at Minnesota.

The defeat dropped the Avalanche out of the playoff picture – they are tied for eighth place with the Wild, who have a game in hand.

Colorado is opening a four-game homestand against the Panthers and hopes to reverse its fortunes after going 2-4-1 at the Pepsi Center in February.

New acquisitions Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell made their debuts for Florida in the win at Winnipeg but both players may be unavailable Thursday due to visa issues.

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TV: 9 p.m. ET, FSN Florida, Altitude (Colorado), NHL.TV

ABOUT THE PANTHERS (36-19-8): Ageless Jaromir Jagr notched the game-winning goal Tuesday and also pick up a point Wednesday when the NHL credited him with an assist from Saturday’s game versus Columbus, moving the 44-year-old within one point of tying the legendary Gordie Howe (1,849) for third place on the all-time points list.

“It’s ridiculous, honestly,” said teammate Reilly Smith, who scored twice against the Jets. “You’ve kind of got to think twice, just because you don’t want to squander the moments you have with pretty much a living legend, right? He’s done a great job for our team this year.”

ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (32-29-4): Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has allowed 11 goals in his last three appearances and was yanked after the first period Tuesday in favor of Calvin Pickard, who will start versus Florida.

“I’m not going to throw Varly under the bus here,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “There’s highs and lows in a career, and those things happen. Right now, it’s a bit tougher time for him, and Pick’s been playing really well.”

Also playing really well is veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who netted his 608th career goal Tuesday to tie Dino Ciccarelli for 17th on the NHL career list.


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  1. Florida, which is 5-for-20 on the power play over the past five games, scored three times with the man advantage in a 3-1 win over Colorado on Oct. 27.
  2. Iginla needs one goal to reach 20 for the 17th time in his career.
  3. Panthers G Roberto Luongo has won eight of his last nine starts versus Colorado.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Sports Direct Inc. contributed to this report.)