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PHILADELPHIA – Although Kevin Dineen talked about how hard it was to “leave that hot stick” in goalie Jose Theodore before Tuesday's game, the Panthers coach went with backup Scott Clemmensen against the Flyers.
Say this for Florida's first-year bench boss: The guy keeps punching all the right buttons.
Clemmensen made his case for more playing time in Florida's final 10 games as he stopped 35 shots to lift the Panthers to their fifth straight win, a 2-1 victory over the host Flyers. Clemmensen, who hadn't played since March 3, stopped the first 17 shots faced as the Panthers skated to a 2-0 lead.
And, Clemmensen came thisclose to pitching a shutout as Philadelphia's only goal was a fluke. Eric Wellwood's clearing shot from the back boards hit Ed Jovanovski in front of the net, the puck somehow finding its way past a thoroughly surprised Clemmensen.
Florida got some luck as well, however, as Sean Bergenheim's second period goal came from a nice hop off the glass and onto his stick.
“It was just a matter of getting some saves under my belt and going from there,'' said Clemmensen, who helped Florida avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Flyers this regular season.
“When [Jaromir] Jagr hit the post you think luck might be on your side. It wasn't on their goal, obviously. But I got into my comfort zone. After a couple of saves I was in it.''
The Panthers have won five straight for the first time since winning seven consecutive games late in the 2007-08 season. Florida's win extended its lead in the Southeast Division back to five points over idle Washington and the Panthers can probably stop worrying about a Winnipeg team that now stands nine points back.
Florida goes for win No. 6 Wednesday in Raleigh against Carolina – a team the Panthers are 4-0 against this season.
“It was not one of our best efforts, but it's a big two points,'' Dineen said. “We found away to get the win. I feel we need everyone contributing in this lineup. There are guys scratching and clawing to get in the lineup. And we're going to need them somewhere down the line. Theodore has played great lately, but I felt [Tuesday] was a good night to go with Clemmensen.''
The Flyers were all over the Panthers and Clemmensen early on and it looked like Tuesday could be a repeat of Philadelphia's 5-0 win here against the Panthers just 12 days ago. The Panthers were put on the penalty kill four times in the opening frame and forced to kill off 42 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
Stephen Weiss gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead just five seconds after Philadelphia's second power play ended in the first.
“It wasn't the prettiest game and we didn't have the puck a lot,'' Weiss said. “At this time of the year it's all about the results. Our penalty kill kept us in the game and really gave us a boost. It was huge. But Clemmensen was our best player. To hold that team to one goal is pretty good stuff. They have some high-end talent.''
Florida didn't hide its defensive game plan for much of the night as the Panthers played a gritty 'road' game in which it sat back and collapsed around the puck. The Panthers took just three shots in the third period and a season-low 13 for the night; Philadelphia was credited for 36 shots on goal and took aim at Clemmensen 62 times.
The Panthers have 30 combined shots on goal in their past two games – both wins. Florida has won just two of the 11 games in which it has surpassed the 40 shot plateau.
“Shots on goal don't get you points,'' general manager Dale Tallon barked on the postgame elevator after a reporter mentioned the 30 shots in two games. “We played a great game.''
Said Weiss: “You know what? We've taken 40 shots in games and lost them. We'd rather take the two points.
Dineen made it clear that he means no disrespect by sitting Jerred Smithson as he has in two of the past six games. Florida has two extra forwards not counting Scottie Upshall so concessions have to be made.
On Tuesday, Smithson and Mike Santorelli – who has been benched three straight games – were the healthy scratches as Krys Barch returned to the lineup.
“Jerred understands the situation,'' Dineen said. “I look at him as a very reliable, low-maintenance player that has some very specific strengths as a player. When he’s doing those things it’s hard to take him out of the lineup. .-.-. There have been some extremely tough decisions on a daily basis for us about whose going in come game time.''
WEDNESDAY: PANTHERS AT HURRICANES
When, Where: 7 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
TV/Radio: No local TV/WQAM-560
The series: Carolina leads 47-39-11
The game: The Hurricanes have gotten themselves back in the postseason conversation after winning three straight and four of the past six. Carolina is coming off a road weekend in which it won in Minnesota and Winnipeg in successive nights. Florida is 4-0 against the Canes this weekend as Jose Theodore tries to become the first Panthers goalie to win five games against the Hartford/Carolina franchise in one season.