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Roadtrip to Rochester II: Goalies in Battle

Plantemask1 Again, this was written before Saturday's game, a 4-1 Amerks win as the series is tied 1-1.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The Panthers are in a pretty good position when it comes to having quality goaltenders within its system.

Whether its All-Star Tomas Vokoun or backup Scott Clemmensen on the big club, or minor leaguers Tyler Plante or Alexander Salak with the AHL Americans, general manager Randy Sexton knows his team is deep in net.

And with Jacob Markstrom and Marc Cheverie on the way up, there isn't room for everyone.

The Panthers are expected to shop Vokoun and the one year remaining on his NHL contract this offseason. Even if Vokoun, who has a no movement clause in the contract he signed with Nashville in 2007, is moved, the Panthers still have a numbers problem.

Florida will likely have to make a decision on whether to keep Plante or Salak. With Rochester in the AHL playoffs, their postseason play could make Sexton's decision for him.

“Every team is the same way, no matter the level, in having guys compete for ice time, spots on the roster,'' said Plante, who started for Rochester on Saturday night against the Abbotsford, British Columbia, Heat in Game 2 of the best-of-7 opening series.

“You can't let it affect your friendship. Hockey is an up and down sport and you have to be there for them and help them out. Good things will come for both of us if you do that.''

Salak, a free agent signed by former general manager Jacques Martin, is in his first professional season and has one year left on his contract. Plante's deal is up, but if the Panthers decide to tender him, Salak could be traded away. Markstrom is expected to start at Rochester next season but that's a long offseason away. Plante was called up for the Panthers final two games this season after Vokoun hurt his back but didn't play.

“This has been Plante's best year as a pro,'' said Sexton. “We have lots of options and you need depth in net because it's such a critical position. We have four very good young goalies so we're in a good spot.''

Markstrom, 20, has spent the past three seasons playing professionally in Sweden in a league with comparable – or even better – talent than the AHL. The Panthers would like to ease Markstrom into the North American system and that's valuable experience the AHL would provide.

Yet both Plante and Salak have had strong seasons for the Amerks. Plante ended the season with a flourish. After missing a big chunk of the season with a knee injury, Plante took over for Salak in net and set a career high in wins (12), saves (701) and shutouts (three). He was named the AHL's goalie of the month in March.

Plantemask2 Plante, who turned 23 on Friday, also has one of the coolest masks in the game – regardless of the league. Plante has two Will Ferrell characters on each side: Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights and Chazz Michaels from Blades of Glory. Movie lines and a Bible passage also adorn the mask.

“Getting hurt in a contract year isn't what you want and I think I tried rushing myself to get back,'' said Plante, who stopped all 20 shots he faced after replacing Salak in Thursday's 3-2 series opening loss to the Heat.

“My injury lingered because I came back too soon. But my confidence came back when [coach Benoit] Groulx showed confidence in me and put me back in there. Being out so long, I didn't know I even had a roster spot anymore.''

It was a bit of a surprise to see Groulx go with Salak in the opening game as well as Plante had been playing. Salak didn't look sharp, with Abbotsford scoring a mere 35 seconds into the game. Salak stopped six of nine shots, the Amerks trailed 3-1 going into the second and Plante was informed during the first break that he was taking over.

Groulx has shown confidence in both goalie, however, although Plante would have to play poorly for Salak to get back in.

Salak carried the Amerks for much of the season and their hot start – the team opened 17-3-1 – was directly related to Salak's play. Named to the AHL All-Star team, Salak went 29-14-0 with the Amerks and made his NHL debut as Vokoun's back up at the beginning of the season when Clemmensen had to leave the team to attend to family matters in his home state of Iowa.

“Alexander Salak had a great start for us,'' said Groulx. “Tyler was off to a great start too, before the knee injury. Then Salak got hurt. That hurt our team because we had to play 12 straight games without them. We struggled. It was a tough couple of months, but they both came back and played well.

“We're still confident in both of them, but you can't play them both at the same time. We all want to win here. This is big for those guys because teams want to see players have success in the postseason.''