NHL Scores: Panthers Roar Past Bruins, 'Canes Blank Blues, Flames Shrink Gap

March 15, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Mikael Samuelsson (26) celebrates his first period goal against the Boston Bruins at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Florida solidified its lead in the Southeast Division, and Calgary narrowed the gap in the Western Conference playoff hunt.

The primary storyline of Thursday night's NHL action was Sidney Crosby's triumphant return to the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the Southeast Division's Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes scored big wins on their own.

The suddenly-streaking Panthers got the bigger win, crushing the Boston Bruins 6-2 to extend their lead in the Southeast to three points over Washington and close to within two points of Boston for the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed. Stephen Weiss, Marcel Goc, and Mikael Samuelsson all netted goals for Florida, and Brian Campbell contributed three assists.

Carolina, on the other hand, prevented the St. Louis Blues from opening up a bigger lead on the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Cup with a 2-0 shutout win in Raleigh. Cam Ward made 40 saves in the victory, the 200th of his career.

In Calgary, the Flames used goals from Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to take a 4-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. And New Jersey got a 1-0 shootout victory over Colorado in overtime as Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk scored in the shootout's firs two rounds. Those two results combined move the Flames to 80 points and just one point behind both the seventh-place Coyotes and eighth-place Avalanche in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.

For more on the NHL, visit SB Nation's NHL hub.

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