1/24/97 -- 2:36 AM


BOSTON (AP) - The Florida Panthers have been struggling lately. The Boston Bruins have struggled most of the season.

The Panthers broke a four-game losing streak and pushed the Bruins a step further from missing the playoffs for the first time in 30 years with a 4-1 victory Thursday night.

Radek Dvorak scored two goals, Ray Sheppard had a goal and three assists and John Vanbiesbrouck made 28 saves for Florida.

Boston, which has lost five of six games and six of eight, plays 22 of the last 35 games on the road.

``We can't afford any more lapses,'' Bruins captain Ray Bourque said. ``If we want to be in the playoffs we have to take things one shift, one game at a time from now on.''

Rhett Warrener also scored for the Panthers, who have played seven of their last eight games on the road.

``Our guys were really focused tonight,'' Panthers coach Doug MacLean said. ``We bounced back from a tough loss Wednesday at Hartford.''

Boston has lost three straight at home.

``It's been a real disappointment the way we have played on home ice,'' Bruins coach Steve Kasper said. ``You have to earn the home-ice advantage, it takes more than just going out to play.''

Vanbiesbrouck has allowed two or fewer goals in 20 of his 33 appearances this season.

``My philosophy is to make the first save and don't allow them the opportunity to score on the rebound,'' Vanbiesbrouck said.

Warrener opened the scoring at 6:07 of the first period when he scored his first goal of the season on a power play. Sheppard put the Panthers up 2-0 at 14:38 of the first when he poked in a rebound of Dvorak's shot for his 19th goal.

``We caught them flat-footed and put a lot of shots on the net,'' Shepard said. ``When you do that good things are going to happen and it did for us with a two-goal lead.''

Bourque took advantage of Boston's power-play opportunity at 16:23 of the opening period to score his seventh goal of the season, trimming Florida's lead to 2-1.

Dvorak slapped in the rebound of Johan Garpenlov's shot at 11:19 of the second period to restore Florida's two-goal advantage.

Dvorak's second goal of the game and 12th of the season came at 5:15 of the third period on a wrist shot from the right face-off circle.

Both teams were 1-for-5 on power play opportunities.

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