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Assistant says Panthers quit on Murrays

The Panthers quit on coach Terry Murray.

That was the assessment of Florida assistant Slava Lener Thursday, after Murray and his brother and general manager, Bryan, were fired with the team last in the NHL.

"It's hard to say it. It's hard to think it," Lener said. "But the way the team played, they played like they had given up. Nobody expressed that, but I can say from what I've seen they really didn't support their coach."

Pavel Bure certainly didn't. After Terry Murray cut Bure's ice time by five minutes in three of four games, Bure basically stopped playing in the next three.

Bure ducked out a side door of the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise without commenting the day the Murrays were fired.

Other players, of course, vehemently denied Lener's claim.

"I find that hard to believe," captain Scott Mellanby said. "I don't think anybody would purposely play bad because they don't support the coach. That's ridiculous. You're not going to give up millions of dollars and a chance to play in the league to not support the coach."

Still, wing Ray Whitney said he was relieved the episode is over.

"I'm tired of hearing the "fire Murray' chants in the crowd," he said. "It's nice that we'll be able to get back to just playing now that it's done. It's now up to the people in here to do something with it."

BURE FACTOR: Bryan Murray said players began questioning their coach in Game 1 of last season's playoffs after Terry kept Bure on the bench in the first period.

"That was the turning point for Terry," Bryan said. "Everything was called into question. Players made the excuse that the media was right and the coach was wrong.

" "How can he dare play Pavel Bure only 3:23 in the first period?' Well, Pavel was a minus-3 in 3:23. We're losing the game and he was trying to do something, as a coach is supposed to do."

FOR THE AGES: Tonight is the 25th anniversary of the epic battle between the Canadiens and Soviet Red Army team. Some call the 3-3 tie the greatest game ever played.

The Canadiens had 10 future Hall of Famers and coach Scotty Bowman. The Red Army had 10 players who played in the Summit Series, including goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, who played lights-out as the Red Army was outshot 38-13.

"It's the first and only time I can remember, including any seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that all the guys were dressed and ready to go on the ice five or seven minutes before the warmups," former Canadiens player Jacques Lemaire said. "That's how much pressure everyone felt."

Said former Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden: "We were terrific that night. One thing time does, it allows you to disregard the result and lets you think back to how great the game was."

GETTING THRASHED: Atlanta got its 15th victory in 36 games Thursday against the Rangers. The Thrashers had 14 wins last season, their first, and were 8-24-4 through 36 games.

"They're probably wondering what's going on," said goaltender Damian Rhodes when asked what the rest of the league is thinking. "If I was on another team, that's probably what I'd be thinking."

LEADERSHIP PERSONIFIED: As the Avalanche stumbled through a four-minute power play Wednesday against the Oilers, defenseman Adam Foote steamed, then did something about it.

Foote's third-period goal ignited a two-goal rally that gave Colorado a 3-2 victory. The Avalanche had been 0-6-1 when trailing after two periods.

Just as important, though, were Foote's game-high 28 minutes, five hits, four shots on goal and an assist.

"Footsie was going nuts on the bench," teammate Chris Drury said. "He was very intense and took charge right from there. He wasn't yelling at anyone, but he had this look in his eye. That's what a leader does. He's been here for a while and he took charge, without a doubt."

WEIGHTY MATTER: Edmonton's Doug Weight picked up 39 penalty minutes Thursday for going after San Jose's Bryan Marchment. Weight thought his knee had been blown out by a knee-on-knee hit.

Weights slashed Marchment, then punched him in the face.

"He went down like I had an AK47 in my hand," Weight said.

Weight received two minors, a major, two 10-minute misconducts and a game misconduct.

"I think the Lady Byng's out of the question now," Weight said.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Mighty Ducks were winless in their first five games after star Paul Kariya went down with a broken left foot. Val Bure had six goals and 10 assists at the Christmas break. At last season's break, he had 18 goals, 28 assists. Colorado's Ray Bourque turned 40 Thursday. The defenseman is averaging a team-high 27 minutes, had four goals, 23 assists in his first 37 games and was plus-11.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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