Minnesota 3, Florida 1

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SUNRISE, FLORIDA (TICKER) —With the first playoff berth in franchise history seemingly a foregone conclusion, the Minnesota Wild now have their sights set on the Colorado Avalanche.

Pascal Dupuis scored a goal and set up another and Dwayne Roloson made 31 saves as the Wild posted a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.

With the win, Minnesota moved 14 points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix, all but cementing its first playoff spot since joining the NHL in 2000. The Wild also pulled within four points of sixth-place Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

“We’re trying to keep everything realistic and not think too much about the playoffs,” Roloson said. “We just want to stay with our game and play hard.”

Already with career highs in goals, assists and points, Dupuis netted a power-play tally late in the third to keep the Wild unbeaten when leading after two periods (26-0-1).

“I had a lot of confidence out there tonight,” Dupuis said. “I knew I had to give the effort because Florida is a scrappy team. I wanted to keep coming at them and take advantage of the opportunities.”

The 23-year-old Dupuis also assisted on Sergei Zholtok’s game-winner with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the first.

Antti Laaksonen also tallied for Minnesota, which snapped a two-game winless skid.

Viktor Kozlov netted the lone goal for Florida, which had its home winless slide reach 11 games (0-8-2-1).

“It’s inexcusable to see them play away from this building and then to see how they play in here,” Panthers coach Mike Keenan said. “They just haven’t grasped or won’t grasp the idea of what has to be done. You have to ask them for those answers because I don’t have them.”

“This team works so hard, but we just come away empty at home,” Kozlov said. “It’s a mystery, but I think the effort is there.”

Losers of two of their previous three games, the Panthers nearly grabbed an early lead when rookie Jaroslav Bednar’s shot from the right faceoff circle a minute into the game rang off the crossbar.

“I was not really that pleased with my play,” said Roloson, who stopped 14 shots in the second period. “I found myself scrambling around early, but they had a lot to do with that because they came right at us. I settled down and tried to stay steady, and that helped.”

Laaksonen was able to avoid hitting iron midway through the first and give the Wild a 1-0 advantage.

After getting a pass from Marian Gaborik at the Florida blue line, Laaksonen found his way between two defenders and put a wrist shot past goaltender Roberto Luongo to the stick side at 11:05 for his 13th goal of the season.

Minnesota doubled its lead less than five minutes later as Zholtok deposited Dupuis’ pass from the right corner behind Luongo from the left side of the net.

“I thought we followed a good cycle in getting open and moving around into good scoring positions,” Zholtok said. “We have a lot of young legs and that kept us going tonight.”

Keenan had seen enough of Luongo, who tied the club record with his 60th appearance, pulling him for the eighth time this season and replacing him with Jani Hurme. John Vanbiesbrouck set the mark during the 1997-98 season.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Luongo said of being pulled. “We got down early and (Keenan) felt he had to do something to shake things up.”

Kozlov halved the Panthers’ deficit late in the second period, beating Roloson to the stick side with a slap shot from the high slot with 59 seconds left.

Gaborik nearly rebuilt Minnesota’s two-goal cushion with five minutes to go in the third, but his shot from the low slot bounced off the left goalpost.

But with Florida’s Igor Kravchuk serving a double-minor for high-sticking, Dupuis deflected defenseman Lubomir Sekeras’ wrister from the top of the slot by Hurme with 1:46 remaining for his 18th tally.

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