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Florida Panthers Don't Catch the Breaks ... Tomas Vokoun Is Injured, Clemmensen Vs. Devils

The Panthers haven't caught many breaks this season.

Friday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Lightning was just another example of close calls going against the Panthers.

Bryan Allen was called for tripping Vinny Lecavalier on a breakaway as the Lightning star winger was awarded a penalty shot. Replays show a penalty probably shouldn't have been called at all. Allen and Lecavalier collided about the same time as Allen knocked the puck away cleanly.

“I thought I hit the puck first, but that's a judgment call. They thought I tripped him first,'' Allen said. “That's the way it seems to be going. We never get the benefit of the doubt. That's frustrating. I don't know if it's because we're playing better teams, but we get the short end of the stick. Maybe it's because we don't play in a big media market like Canadian teams or other cities where there's more attention. It comes with the territory of where you are. We have to earn respect in all areas.''

In the shootout, Dominic Moore appeared to be stopped by goalie Tomas Vokoun only Moore's stick continued to push the puck through. The shootout goal was reviewed in Toronto by league officials and upheld.

That was the fifth disputed goal call this season to go against the Panthers. Florida should have known something was up on opening night in Edmonton when Shawn Horcoff kicked a puck into the net yet it was ruled good. General manager Dale Tallon was incredulous then, and hasn't been happy about the most recent turn of events.

“Whether it's coincidence or not, we have to go into every game with the mindset that we have to earn whatever we get,'' coach Pete DeBoer said.

The Panthers haven't made the playoffs in a decade, so getting respect from those around the league is a little tougher to get. Florida was picked to finish last in the Eastern Conference by a number of publications, something DeBoer has brought up a few times – especially after wins against teams entrenched in the playoffs. The Panthers are one of only a handful of teams to not be represented in next Sunday's All-Star Game.

“That stokes that fire of the lack of respect we've gotten from Day 1,'' DeBoer said “The All-Star Game is a small part of that. It's not a great motivator, but it's part of the big picture that no one picks us to be competitive.''

Florida has a good opportunity to pick up ground in the playoff race this week as it embarks on a three game road trip before going into the All-Star break. Florida opens Sunday in New Jersey – in a game that's not televised locally because it was scheduled, but not picked up, during the NBC national window – before ending with the Rangers and Bruins.

“We just have to win games, get some points and let our play do the talking for us,'' Stephen Weiss said. “We need to keep climbing in the second half and sneak our way in [to the playoffs]. We can beat anyone when we play our game, we know that. We've beaten all the best teams in the league before. If we do the right things, sometimes it won't be good enough, but we'll be in every game.''

VOKOUN HURT

DeBoer said Vokoun suffered an injury during Friday's game but continued to play. DeBoer, who wouldn't disclose what the injury was, said Vokoun would not start Sunday against the Devils and an emergency backup could be recalled from the minors.

Scott Clemmensen had been expected to get the start against the Devils anyway. Clemmensen, the former New Jersey backup, has won all three of his starts against New Jersey.

“He's got an injury and we're just taking it day-by-day,'' DeBoer said.

-- Center Mark Cullen had his final practice with the Panthers Saturday before reporting to the team's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Cullen, who was placed on waivers Saturday, has been out since rupturing his Achilles tendon during physicals the day before training camp started. Cullen has been working with the Panthers for the past few weeks and said he hopes to begin play in Rochester this week.

“I feel pretty good although it's not there yet,'' Cullen said. “I didn't get a training camp so this has been like a training camp for me. It's good to be here with the guys, going at an NHL pace. I need to get accustomed to that. We're going to see how it goes on the ice the next few days after we start getting some contact.''

-- Chris Higgins (hamstring) practiced on Saturday but said he would not play on Sunday. Dmitry Kulikov (rib cage) won't play either, but Jason Garrison (groin) is probable.

SUNDAY: PANTHERS AT DEVILS
When, Where: 3 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV/Radio: No local TV; WQAM 560
The series: Devils lead 41-22-7
The game: New Jersey had won four of its past five games heading into Saturday's game against the Flyers. The lone loss during that stretch came against the Panthers last weekend in Sunrise. Scott Clemmensen, who spent five seasons with the Devils, has given up six goals off 107 shots in three career starts against the Devils. Florida has lost three straight – all in overtime – and went 3-0-3 on its most recent homestand. The Panthers have been to overtime in five of their past six games including four straight.

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