Despite losing their last two games to the worst teams in the dominant Western Conference there seemed to be a newfound sense of optimism in the Panthers dressing room after a respectable 2-2-1 trip.

Since interim coach Peter Horachek took the reins from Kevin Dineen, the Panthers have gone 3-4-1 with wins over elite teams such as Anaheim, Colorado and Vancouver.

"It's been a lot better,'' said Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert, whose first goal in 56 games gave the Panthers their third first-period lead in their last four games after having four over their first 20.

"There's still lots of room for improvement. We still have to put together a full 60 minutes. Our starts were a lot better on this road trip and that's been huge.''

However, losing 4-1 to the lowly 29th-ranked Oilers on Thursday, and following that up with a 4-3 shootout loss in the Saddledome Friday to the flickering 13th-place Flames, left a bitter taste in the mouth of goalie Tim Thomas, who started his eighth straight game, including both ends of three back-to-backs.