BOSTON – Pete DeBoer says bluntly that he is still trying to win games and he is going with the goaltender who gives him the best chance to accomplish that goal.
“I'm not putting a rotation in, trying to protect anyone, play guys for their stats,'' DeBoer said.
Based on that, and Thursday night's performance against the Bruins, expect backup Scott Clemmensen to find more playing time as the season comes to a close.
Clemmensen was peppered with shots on Thursday but stood strong, the former Boston College goalie getting his first shutout as a member of the Panthers as he stopped 36 shots in Florida's 1-0 victory at the Garden.
“I was hoping to get my first shutout before April, but hey, better late than never,'' said Clemmensen, who led the BC Eagles to the 2001 national title. “They came at us pretty good but we killed some penalties. I got lucky on a few saves out there. I know they are a little snake bitten and that worked to my advantage.''
The win snapped Florida's four game losing streak and kept the Panthers from being eliminated from postseason contention for at least another day. Florida's win also put a dent in Boston's playoff run as the Bruins were one of three teams tied for the final spot going into Thursday's game.
The New York Rangers, Florida's opponent on Saturday who play in Tampa on Friday, are four back of the slumping Bruins. The Panthers may not be in the playoff race, but they could have a say on who stays in it.
“We are going to come across situations like this and we really don't have a whole lot else to play for right now,'' said Keith Ballard, whose goal 7:15 into the first period stood as the game winner. Ballard's Minnesota Gophers won the national title the year after Clemmensen left BC.
“Maybe we can upset some teams. It's nice. This was a big game for them. We're going to see some team's better games in these final weeks.''
The Panthers and Bruins have played plenty of close games – especially this season. Thursday was the fourth and final game between the two – each game being decided by one goal. The Panthers won both games in Boston by 1-0 scores. Tomas Vokoun got the shutout the last time here in November. Former Florida backup Craig Anderson also won a 1-0 game in Boston on March 4, 2008.
“Like Buffalo, we played a good first period then ran out of gas,'' DeBoer said. “But we got the goaltending we needed with the lineup we've got to win. .-.-. For a team not really playing for a playoff spot, a lot of guys were sacrificing and putting their bodies on the line for a win. That's nice to see at this time of year. It shows some character.''
After the Panthers were blown out 6-2 in Buffalo on Wednesday night, few could have guessed Thursday's effort would be so much better. The Panthers played a strong first period – like in Boston – only they went to the break with the lead and not facing a deficit. In the second, the Bruins dominated play as they kept the Panthers pinned deep in their zone for much of the period.
The Bruins outshot the Cats 36-20.
“You could see their desperation,'' said DeBoer. “They are in the heat of the battle for a playoff spot.''
TRIO STILL OUT
Winger Byron Bitz has missed the past three games with an injured elbow and DeBoer says his injury is substantial. Bitz could miss the rest of the season with the injury.
The Panthers acquired Bitz in a trade with the Bruins last month in exchange for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Bitz played in two games after the trade but injured his groin and missed four games. Bitz returned and played in five games before getting hurt against Ottawa.
-- DeBoer said injured winger Gregory Campbell has been skating on his broken foot in South Florida and could be back in the lineup in the final week of the season. Campbell is expected to miss Saturday's game against the Rangers. “He has a broken bone in his foot and that's pretty painful,'' DeBoer said. “But he's a tough kid and it could get better quick.''
Campbell has been out since taking a puck off the skate March 20 against Buffalo.
-- Victor Oreskovich got hit hard in the first period and limped to the bench area before returning to the game. Oreskovich would eventually leave the game for good after playing just 2:14 on four shifts.
-- Rostislav Olesz missed his second straight game with a hand injury.
-- Thursday's game was Florida's last of the season outside the Sunshine State. The Panthers play four of their final five at home – with the lone road game on April 10 in Tampa.
-- Florida's home game on April 6 against Ottawa will start at 7 p.m. To accommodate Senators television. The Panthers usually start weekday home games at 7:30.