Finally, the Panthers successfully played the role of spoiler and forced the New York Rangers to keep their champagne bottles corked or whatever refreshment that goes with clinching a playoff berth.

Instead, behind the sparkling goaltending of rookie Jacob Markstrom and a tic-tac-toe power-play goal by Marcel Goc the Panthers snapped a season-long six-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over the desperate New Yawkers Tuesday night at a packed BB&T Center.

A loss by the Panthers would've wrapped up their first-ever season as the worst team in the league and assured them of at least the No. 2 pick in the June 30 draft. That's still likely as with two games remaining the Panthers trailed the 29th-ranked Avalance by three points.

The Rangers, who had gone 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, need just one win (or a regulation loss by the ninth-place Jets) in their final two games against the Hurricanes and Devils to capture the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference.

The Blue Shirts crushed the Panthers 6-1 in Madison Square Garden just five days earlier in a game that angered coach Kevin Dineen when it appeared that his players quit in the final five minutes.

So Dineen's message to his baby-faced charges with 13 players 25 years old or younger, including nine rookies on the roster, was to, "just play hard, play with some passion and play to win.''

"We talked about it but I think there was brutal reality yesterday and honesty that we haven't been good enough and I think we had more commitment in that area tonight,'' Dineen said. "It was a tight, hard-fought game and it was nice to get one here in front of our fans and shut theirs up.”

That's what he got, especially from Markstrom (7-13-1), who notched 36 saves to best his Swedish counterpart Henrik Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina Trophy holder, for the second time this season.

"We had a tough road trip,'' Markstrom said of the 0-4 road trip. "We had a meeting yesterday and said we could just lay down and not do anything about it or we can go out and work as hard as we can and try to win some games at the end of the year. The guys did a great job tonight.''