PANTHERS 3, DEVILS 2 (OT)
The Panthers don't have a full-fledged goalie controversy cooking just yet although Scott Clemmensen is making it awfully tough for coach Pete DeBoer to put him back at the end of the bench.
Clemmensen made his second straight start over Tomas Vokoun on Saturday night, facing his former teammates for the third time since leaving New Jersey as a free agent in 2009.
As in his previous two starts against them, Clemmensen pulled out a win against the Devils, stopping 33 shots as Florida won its third straight with a 3-2 overtime victory in front of an announced 17,825 at BankAtlantic Center.
“It's like beating your big brother,'' Clemmensen said. “I did learn a lot from Martin [Brodeur] while I was there. It's always good to win no matter who you play, but it's a unique opportunity to beat guys you are friends with.''
Dmitry Kulikov won the game with 1:24 left in overtime as he charged Brodeur – New Jersey's Stanley Cup winning, future Hall of Fame goalie.
Kulikov froze him with the puck, finally whipping the shot through. It's the first game-winning goal for Florida's 20-year-old defenseman. Kulikov, in his second season, played in his 110th NHL game on Saturday.
“We're trying to keep the momentum going,'' Kulikov said. “The overtime winning goal was special for me. That's three in a row for the team. We need to keep this going.''
The Devils, on pace for their lowest point total since their 'Mickey Mouse franchise' days of the 1980s, had won two straight after taking a home-and-home series from the Lightning. The Devils win in Tampa on Friday was their first away from Newark since Nov. 3.
New Jersey is playing better of late with Stanley Cup coach Jacques Lemaire taking the reins last month. The Devils looked, at least defensively, like their old selves. Florida was held to just four shots in the third period and didn't get much going during overtime as Jersey clogged things up.
“We never make it easy on ourselves, but that was a hard-fought game,'' DeBoer said. “New Jersey is playing much better lately as evidenced by their game against Tampa [Saturday]. It was a good test for us. I thought we lost our legs a little bit, but give Jersey credit. They made us look that way. We had chances at 8-7. It was more like a soccer game.''
Florida's much maligned power play has been churning out the goals of late. In Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Capitals, the Panthers scored three while holding the advantage. On Saturday, Florida scored on each of its first two power play chances.
New Jersey, which came into the game 25 points out of the final playoff spot, scored first when Nick Palmieri charged in and buried a rebound at 5:01 of the first. The Panthers were able to strike back 10 minutes later when Evgeny Dadonov's nasty wrister zipped past Brodeur.
The Panthers picked up their second power play chance early in the second and Dennis Wideman buried his shot. That lead held until midway through the third when David Clarkson jabbed at a puck Kulikov failed to clear by the cage. Clemmensen couldn't get his skate over to guard the open spot and Clarkson found the opening to make it 2-2.
Florida found a way in overtime, however, just like it found ways to beat Washington on Tuesday and Nashville two nights later. The Panthers go for their first four-game winning streak since the 2007-08 season on Monday against the Thrashers.
“We're gaining confidence, getting lucky with goals in OT,'' Wideman said. “It's a long season so we need to stay even and not get too high or low. We're not a high scoring team so we have to learn to win one goal, tight games. Early on we lost them. We need to keep doing what we're doing.''
Vokoun met with the media after Saturday's morning skate, saying he wasn't too mad that Clemmensen was starting for a second straight game although he didn't fully understand the move. Clemmensen gave up the go-ahead goal to Nashville midway through the third on Thursday before the Panthers rallied to win.
“I can totally understand it, and wouldn't raise a question if we had lost the [Capitals] game or had I played bad,'' Vokoun said. “You play one of the best teams in the league and you win, then you get questioned about one play or one goal? It's not the first time I've been in this situation since I've been here. It's happened a few times over the past few years.''
Vokoun confirmed the Panthers and his agent were talking about an extension although he said he didn't believe an offer had been made. Florida general manager Dale Tallon said numbers had been “volleyed around” and that the two sides “are on the same page. We're moving forward on this.''
Vokoun is in the final year of a four-year pact signed when he played for Nashville.
“I do like it here. This is a decision that has to be made,'' Vokoun said. “I haven't seen any offers. .-.-. I've heard there is interest but that's it. There have been no offers as far as I know. I haven't talked to my agent in a few days and it's the weekend.
"I'm just worrying about how I play the next game and I'm preparing the best I can for that. I'm not worried at all about what happens. I'm confident in my game and the kind of player I am. I'm going to leave it at that.''
-- Fox Sports Florida had some technical difficulties during Saturday's game with the signal being lost from BankAtlantic Center numerous times during the second period.
-- Chris Higgins (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game.