Pavel Bure began the new year by equaling a career high with four goals, and Mike Vernon weathered a shaky debut as Florida's goaltender yesterday, helping the Panthers hold off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-5, in Sunrise, Fla.

Bure scored at least three goals in a game for the third time this season and the 14th time in his career. He gave the Panthers the lead to stay on a breakaway 18 seconds after Chris Gratton beat Vernon to tie it at 5 with just more than 11 minutes to go.

Bure scored three times against goaltender Kevin Hodson and added an empty-net goal with 28.1 seconds remaining to ensure Vernon's 354th career win.

Brad Hedican, Robert Svehla and Ray Sheppard also had goals for the Panthers, and Ray Whitney had three assists.

Bure had scored four goals against Winnipeg on Oct. 12, 1992.

Vernon, acquired in a trade from San Jose on Thursday, became the fifth goalie to start for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers this season, filling in for the injured Trevor Kidd.

He settled down after allowing three second-period goals, stopping five of six shots in the final period while Bure was scoring three times.

"I said to Pavel: 'Thanks for bailing me out,' " Vernon said. "It seemed like whoever had the last shot was going to win that game."

Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and two assists for his first four-point game for the Lightning. Stephen Guolla had a goal and two assists, and Fredrik Modin scored one goal and assisted on another for Tampa Bay.

The loss was the seventh straight for the Lightning.

PREDATORS 3, SHARKS 2: Tom Fitzgerald scored his 100th NHL goal and Tomas Vokoun made 43 saves for his fourth victory in six days. Host Nashville extended its winning streak to four and its unbeaten streak to eight (5-0-3) despite attempting only 20 shots.

Vokoun had been 0-8-1 until last week.

Sergei Krivokrasov got the fastest goal at the start of a game in Predators history. He scored 22 seconds into the first period, sending the rebound of Karlis Skatstins's shot past goalie Steve Shields.

Fitzgerald made it 3-1 at 4:13 of the third on his second short-handed goal in as many games.

Fitzgerald knows his role is often to do the little things to help his team win. Before the scoring streak, he had not registered a point in 15 straight games.

"I've played close to 700 games and I've only got 100 goals to show for it," he said. "I know I haven't been playing this long because I'm a goal scorer."

BRUINS 2, DEVILS 2: Jason Allison scored his second goal of the game at 6:50 of the third period, lifting host Boston to the tie with New Jersey.

Allison had missed the last three games with a wrist injury and is also seeking a contract extension. He will decide next week whether to have surgery that would force him to miss at least three months.

The Bruins are 0-5-2 in their last seven games, and have two victories in their last 16 games.

SABRES 8, MAPLE LEAFS 1: In Buffalo, Eric Rasmussen, Maxim Afinogenov and Stu Barnes each scored twice in the rout of Toronto. Curtis Brown had four assists for a career high in points and Martin Biron made 17 saves, and Buffalo outshot Toronto, 35-18.

Buffalo had its highest goal total since March 1993. Goalie Curtis Joseph yielded six goals in two periods, the most he has allowed in two seasons with Toronto.

"They did a lot of good things out there--got a lot of bodies in front of the net and created a lot of two-on-ones," Joseph said. "They didn't look to me like a team that hadn't been playing well."

OILERS 5, COYOTES 4: In Phoenix, Doug Weight scored his second goal of the game with 1:04 remaining as Edmonton rallied to win. The Oilers' Todd Marchant tied the score at 4 when he backhanded in a rebound with 4:40 left. Edmonton has the Western Conference's worst road record at 4-14-3.

HURRICANES 4, THRASHERS 2: In Atlanta, Ron Francis, Sami Kapanen and Paul Ranheim each had a goal and an assist in helping Carolina break a four-game road losing streak.