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Devils Go Down In Florida: Unable to Find a Goal to Steal ... Clemmensen Puts Jersey In a Bind ... Cheverie Signs

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PANTHERS 3, DEVILS 2

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

Scott Clemmensen said he didn't want to stick it to his old team, but by beating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 Thursday night, he kind of did just that.

The Devils are trying to wrap up the Atlantic Division title and Thursday's loss did them no good.

With Pittsburgh beating the Islanders in the final regular season game at the Igloo, the two teams are now tied for the division lead – and the third overall seed that comes with it.

“I'm not worried about them, they'll be fine,'' said Clemmensen, who stopped 42 shots in his second win against the Devils this season. “New Jersey has a great team over there. They have all the components to make a good run at the Stanley Cup.''

The Panthers are playing for nothing more than draft position these days, but don't tell that to the players who were out there Thursday. The Panthers rallied from a 1-0 lead and third period goals from Radek Dvorak and Nathan Horton held up.

“We only have a couple games left and we want to finish strong,'' said Horton, who pounced on a rebound and blasted a shot past future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. “It's tough playing these games, but that's what we're paid to do. We're trying, trying to finish the season off right. Clemmensen played there and played great tonight. We wouldn't have won without him tonight.''

Dante And as Dante Hicks – the New Jersey convenience store worker in the cult classic Clerks – would say: Clemmensen wasn't even supposed to be working on Thursday.

Coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday that Tomas Vokoun would start, only his back started acting up on him after Wednesday's practice and Clemmensen got the call. He's now won four of his past six starts.

Clemmensen spent parts of five seasons backing up Brodeur in New Jersey, starting 39 games for the Devils last season when Brodeur got hurt. That extended action earned Clemmensen a three-year deal in Florida, and Thursday's start was his 18th of the year – second only in his career to last season.

On Dec. 11 in Newark, Clemmensen beat the Devils 4-2 by stopping 26 shots.

“The more you play the more comfortable you feel,'' said Clemmensen. “More playing time helps you. I like where I'm at right now, not worrying about the standings or other external factors. I want to feel good about my game. I wish there was more hockey left, or that it was earlier in the season. But it's not.''

Thursday, the Devils got to Clemmensen 59 seconds into the second period when Patrik Elias scored his 19th career goal against the Panthers by jabbing at the puck in front of the net and putting it in past a downed Clemmensen.

The Panthers broke up Brodeur's shutout streak later in the period as Michael Frolik got his 20th of the season after whipping a nice shot from a Horton feed. Brodeur had earned shutouts in New Jersey's past two wins, going 151:29 without giving up a goal before Frolik scored.

Frolik became the third Florida player in history to start his career with back-to-back 20 goal seasons. Frolik had 21 as a rookie last season.

Frolik apparently earned his spot back on the first line after rookie Evgeny Dadonov took it away in his NHL debut on Tuesday. Dadonov started his second game in the bigs back on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton – but didn't stay their long.

The Panthers took the lead in the third when Dvorak – who was stopped on a short handed chance in the second -- rifled off a shot from a nice feed from Rostislav Olesz. The goal was Dvorak's first since March 25 and Olesz's second point in the past 28 games.

With 7:37 left, Horton scored for a 3-1 lead. Clemmensen ended up surrendering a goal to David Clarkson with 5:14 left, but didn't give up anything else to earn his ninth win of the year.

GOALIE SIGNS

University of Denver goalie Marc Cheverie has signed an two-year entry level contract with the Panthers meaning he's done playing with the Pioneers and will be at training camp come September.

Cheverie had a terrific junior season at Denver and was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award – the Heisman Trophy of college hockey. Cheverie led the nation in wins (24), shutouts (six) and save percentage (.937) as the Pioneers reached the NCAA regional semifinals.

“It's great to have this done,'' said general manager Randy Sexton. “He's a good young goaltending prospect. He made himself a player. He went to Denver as a backup and became one of the top goalies in the NCAA.''

-- Sexton said he will represent the Panthers at the NHL draft lottery show Tuesday in Toronto. The lottery will be held in New York at 7:45 with live television coverage and results shown a few minutes later. No word on what lucky charm Sexton will be bringing with him.

-- Rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov confirmed Thursday that he would participate in the World Championships for Russia.



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