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75 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Sean Bergenheim

April 28, 2012

PACK 'EM UP: Florida Panthers Clear Out Lockers, Head into Offseason

LockerrBY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

One by one, the Panthers pulled into their training facility under dreary conditions. 

The soft rain and constant cloud cover was a fitting backdrop as the team came to Coral Springs to meet with team management for the final time this season.

The players then lugged their pre-packed oversized bags to vehicles out back and headed into the offseason. 

Unlike last year, locker clean-out day wasn't a foregone conclusion days before it actually happened. Last year, the end of the season came mercifully as the Panthers limped into last place in the Eastern Conference as coach Pete DeBoer was fired on a Sunday morning; the players returned the following Monday to grab their stuff.

SechampsphotoThis time around, the Panthers packed up wondering what could have been. One well-timed goal Thursday night (or even Friday morning) and Florida would be playing Philadelphia in the conference semifinals right now.

“This day is always tough, coming in and cleaning out your locker,'' veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said.

“It's always tough to say goodbye to the fellas. As a group, there were a lot of positives. We were a goal away from advancing is something, yeah, to be proud of. But once you get a taste of it, you want more. We'll build from it.''

The Panthers have a number of personnel decisions to make, although nothing close to what they had to deal with last summer. When the Panthers cleared things out last year, only a handful knew whether they were returning or not. This time around, most know their fate with the Panthers. 

Florida, thanks to GM Dale Tallon's work last year, has 17 players who played for the team this year under contract for next season and hold the rights to four more.

The Panthers also have prospects – like  Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom – who could play here next year.  

One by one, players who are free agents said they would welcome a return to the Panthers next season.

Those who are free agents include goalie Scott Clemmensen, forwards Mikael Samuelsson, John Madden, Marco Sturm and Krys Barch.  

“We talked about it a little bit and we'll see what the future brings,'' Samuelsson said. “If it happens, that Ibelievewould be great. If I doesn't, I'm respectful of the decisions they make. Everything worked easy here. We had a real positive atmosphere here.''

--Defenseman Jason Garrison is also a free agent as his two-year deal is up and he will garner a big raise over the $675,000 he made last year. Garrison had a career year with 16 goals after having seven combined over the previous two seasons.

“I want to be here and I want to play here but it's not under my control. We'll see what happens,'' Garrison said. “Not one guy on this team doesn't want to be a part of this.''

--Kris Versteeg, who is a restricted free agent, said he will have surgery to repair his bothersome hip on Wednesday in Nashville. Versteeg says he has made it clear he wants to stay with the Panthers. 

“I would like to get something done,'' said Versteeg, who scored a career-high 23 goals this season. “I want a long-term deal. I would be lying if I said I didn't.''

--Tomas Fleischmann confirmed he played the final six games of the Devils series with a broken left pinkie suffered after being slashed late in Game 1. Fleischmann notched an empty net goal in Game 2 but said he struggled to control the puck because of the wrecked digit.

“It was tough. You work all season for this and then you get an injury like this in the playoffs,'' Fleischmann said. 

--Sean Bergenheim broke a bone in his foot after being struck by a Jason Garrison shot in the first period on Thursday. Bergenheim, using a walking boot Saturday, didn't come out of the game and played 30 shifts – 25 after being hurt – in the series finale. 

“[Garrison's] shot was going in the net but it hit me,'' Bergenheim said. “It was pretty painful. The doctors gave me some pain medication and I was able to play the game. But that's what the playoffs are all about. Guys play in pain. It's no big deal. It's a good time to be a hockey player. I love the playoffs.''

--Madden said he will need nasal surgery after colliding with teammate Tomas Kopecky during the first period Thursday. Madden has lacerations under and above his blackened right eye as well as a number of stitches on his nose.

Madden, who will be 39 on Friday, says he wants to continue his NHL career. 

“I hope it wasn't, especially after the way it ended,'' said Madden when asked if Thursday may have been his last game after 13 NHL seasons.

“Having a collision with your teammate isn't the way you want to go out. I feel I have some hockey left in me and hopefully I'll find somewhere to play next year. My meeting went well with Dale and Kevin. We'll keep the line of communication open.''

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Tomas Kopecky

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Stephen Weiss

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Brian Campbell

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Jose Theodore

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Ed Jovanovski

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Scott Clemmensen

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Kevin Dineen

April 27, 2012

SAYING GOODBYE: Florida Panthers Wrap Things Up After Late-night Loss to Devils

IMG_1135BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

It was just after midnight and Stephen Weiss sat in front of his locker speaking to one reporter after another, his gray dri-fit shirt soaked in sweat. 

The Panthers had just lost 3-2 in double overtime to the visiting Devils, a loss that abruptly ended Florida's season. After almost 84 minutes of hockey, the long season – one that started back in September – was done. 

Hockey players are all about routine, from morning practices to night games and afternoon naps. Mess with the routine and you mess with the mind.

The Panthers now have plenty of time on their hands. No more practice, no more games. There will be some sleep, however, at least right now. 

“What time is it?'' Weiss asked, looking around for a clock. It was 12:27 a.m. “I won't get much sleep tonight. I'll try and get it in.''

The Panthers return to their training facility in Coral Springs for the last time this season on Saturday morning. They'll collect extra sticks, pack up their bags and head home after having exit meetings with coach Kevin Dineen and general manager Dale Tallon. 

Some will need surgery to fix minor problems; some just need rest. Kris Versteeg, who battled a hip IMG_1124injury for much of the second half of the season, said after Thursday's game linemate Tomas Fleischmann played most of the Devils series with a broken hand. 

The bumps and bruises will heal with time. The Panthers have plenty of that to deal with now. The Panthers wish they were still playing but proud of the way they went out.

“We saw our true identity, what we call 'Panther hockey' there near the end,'' Dineen said. “There was a lot of pressure, a lot of passion. We fed off the crowd and it made for a very enthusiastic ending.''

Few will return to BankAtlantic Center, site of 49 games this season – counting four preseason and four postseason contests – save for a concert or two. They won't skate on their ice surface at the arena again IMG_1127until September when it all gets going once more.

Less than 10 hours after Thursday's game was complete, a small army of workers bludgeoned that ice to small bits. It was carted out via front-loaders in the afternoon and left to melt. 

The Panthers sure would have loved to use that ice a little longer. The second round of the playoffs was said to have started as early as Saturday afternoon. But after Adam Henrique's goal zipped between the legs of Jose Theodore 3:47 into the second overtime, it was the Devils moving on – and the Panthers moving out. 

New Jersey opens its Eastern Conference semifinal round against the Flyers on Sunday in Philadelphia.

“It's brutal losing in overtime. Top it off being Game IMG_11337 and ending things. There's not much more to say,'' Ed Jovanovski said. “This a tough pill to swallow.''

One thing the Panthers earned during the seven-game battle with the Devils was a little respect. The Panthers weren't expected to be in the playoffs – much less go into them as the third overall seed with a Southeast Division championship. Florida hadn't made the playoffs in 12 years before this one.

“It was worth the wait for sure,'' said Weiss, who has been with the Panthers since 2002. “It was so much fun to be a part of hockey like that. Every little play means so much. I really missed being a part of it over the years. It'll be a fun summer, getting ready to do this all over again. We set the bar. We have to go beyond this.''

The Panthers were written off for deal a few times during the series, including in the second period Thursday when Florida was held to two shots and went into the third down 2-0. The Panthers came out in the third period looking like a new team and came at Martin Brodeur with everything they had. 

Florida got goals from Weiss and Marcel Goc to tie the score, and had Scottie Upshall been able to connect on a juicy rebound in front of the net, the story would have ended differently. Instead, Henrique chased down a puck the Panthers failed to clear and scored for the second time that night. Well, the second goal of the game came on Friday morning.

“They have a lot of good veteran guys who have been through the trenches,'' Brodeur said afterward, the 16:13 on the small digital game clock in the spartan visitor locker room still burning bright above his IMG_1130head. 

“They were a good solid team that just hung around. They only had two shots in the second but survived it and stayed in the game. The way they stayed around shows their experience. They stayed in your face. You couldn't shake them off.''

OnFrozenPhone: Florida Panthers Remove Arena Ice

Happy 16th Anniversary Billy Lindsay

AND WE'RE DONE: Devils Wrap Up Florida Panthers with 3-2 Thriller in 2 OT

BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]

South Florida was introduced to what a Game 7 playoff hockey game is all about Thursday. 

Then it went into Friday morning.

The highs, the lows and the utter desperation of trying to keep a season alive makes for fantastic theater. For the first time, one of those winner-take-all games every hockey fan talks about was hosted by the Panthers. 

Surely those red-clad fans who packed the BankAtlantic Center for the Panthers opening round finale against the Devils left with sore throats and higher blood pressure and a sense of what could have been.

Florida, despite playing about as good as it could in the third period, watched Adam Henrique score with 3:47 gone in second overtime as the Devils pulled out its second straight 3-2 overtime win to advance.

The Panthers trailed 2-0 going into the third period but got power play goals from Stephen Weiss at 5:02 of the period and the equalizer from Marcel Goc with 3:28 left in regulation. Goc's goal also came on a power play as the Devils were called for a delay of game.

New Jersey, the sixth seed in the east despite having eight more points than the Southeast Division champion Panthers, advance to play Philadelphia in the conference semifinals.

Florida ends what has been a surprisingly successful season with overtime losses in its final two games. The Panthers, it should be noted, led the league in overtime losses this season.

As bad as the Panthers were in the second period – Florida took just two shots on goal – they were a completely different bunch in the third. 

The Panthers came hard at Martin Brodeur and the Devils, finally breaking through and making it a 2-1 game when Stephen Weiss one-timed a soft pass from Brian Campbell 5:02 into the period. Florida held a 4-on-3 advantage at that point because of various penalties and a crowd that booed after a horrid second period were on their feet. 

Florida played like a veteran-led team desperate to keep its season going through the third period and tied things up when Goc followed up a big shot from Sean Bergenheim.

The Devils, who faced elimination at home in Game 6 on Tuesday before winning in the extra frame, got off to a quick start with rookie Adam Henrique tipping in a long shot from Anton Volchenkov 1:29 into the game.

Jose Theodore, back in net after missing Game 6 with what's believed to be knee stiffness, didn't seem to see the puck coming as Henrique somehow got enough movement on it to put it through Theodore's skates. 

“They got one lucky tip,'' Tomas Kopecky said at the first intermission. “We weren’t in a lane and we were kind of cruising around in our zone and it ended up in our net.''

Florida played strong for much of the second half of the opening period. Despite being outshot 5-0 in the first five minutes, Florida charged hard at Brodeur, the hardy playoff veteran, and ended with 12 shots in the period. Unfortunately for the Panthers, none of them found their way home. 

Kopecky added at the intermission that if the Panthers played that way in the second period “we'll be fine.'' Well, they didn't. 

Florida managed just two shots in the period – the second came with 90 seconds left – as Brodeur had plenty of time to look around the arena and take in the scenery. 

The Devils, meanwhile, made it a 2-0 game midway through the period when Stephen Gionta backhanded a shot past Theodore through traffic. 

Tomas Fleischmann appeared to make it a 2-1 game less than two minutes into the third period but his goal was waved off as Shawn Matthias was called for goalie interference after being checked into Brodeur by Henrique. Florida had to wait a few more minutes for its 10-year veteran in Weiss to break the ice against Brodeur.

--Kopecky and teammate John Madden had a hard collision at center ice early in the opening period with Madden taking the brunt of it. Madden hit the ice and stayed face down for a few moments as play continued, blood pooling on the ice.

Madden was eventually helped to his feet and taken into the locker room for treatment. Madden returned to the game later in the first period. 


April 26, 2012

OnFrozenPhone: Florida Panthers Michael Yormark Invites Twitter Foe to Sunrise

GAME ON: #FlaPanthers Ready for Game 7 v #njDevils ... Theodore, Garrison Set to Return ... Game 7s Rare in South Florida ... Yormark Makes Up with Twitter Foe

HandshakeHere's a bit of news out of today's morning skate. 

Spoke to Jason Garrison and he says the few days off really helped him out and he feels good enough to return to the lineup for the first time since Game 3. 

Garrison all but admited he had a groin muscle problem, something that has been bothering him for some time. He said it was getting to the point in which he may be a liability out on the ice. 

He looked sharp today.

-- As did Jose Theodore. After missing Game 6 with what is thought to be a knee problem -- "He would have played if he could have,'' Ed Jovanovski said -- Theodore was back today and should be in net. 

Theodore took all the reps and looked pretty good out there. He had good movement. He's fired up about playing in his first Game 7 since he beat the Wild in the opening round in 2008.

-- This will be the first Game 7 in South Florida since the Heat were knocked out of the Eastern Conference finals by Detroit in 2005. 

The Marlins have played two Game 7s -- the only one Counsellin South Florida being the World Series winner over the Indians in 1997.

The Panthers have been in just one Game 7 -- a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh to claim the 1996 Eastern Conference championship.

This will be the ninth Game 7 by a South Florida team in history -- and first by the Panthers on home ice.

PanposterFor comparison, this will be Martin Brodeur's 10th Game 7. He's 5-4 so far with the last one a loss to Carolina in 2009.

According to a report on NHL.com (supplied by Elias Sports Bureau), Brodeur is 11-12 with a 1.98 goals-against average in elimination games during his career.

-- Devils fan Laura Rubino -- who drew a terse reponse on a Tweet she sent to Panthers president Michael Yormark on Tuesday -- is on her way to South Florida.

Courtesy of Yormark, the Panthers (and I would bet JetBlue). 

According to her Twitter site (@LaurenAshley07), she said Yormark (@PanthersYormark) called her to apologize -- and to offer her a trip to Sunrise to watch tonight's game from his suite.

She accepted -- and said she was also to blame for the dust up.

She did call Yormark something that rhymes with Mass after Yormark said the reason the Panthers aren't selling rats at the arena anymore because Devils fans were throwing them on the ice.

I figured Yormark would reach out and do something, didn't think he would go this far though.

Nice move. Kind of difuses the situation (which had cooled considerably anyway).

And, as a fun aside, Rubino has almost 4,500 Twitter followers now. On Tuesday, when she tweeted Yormark, she had somewhere around 70.

"You have 70 followers,'' Yormark tweeted in response to her. "No one cares what you think.'' 

Yormark, it should be noted, has increased his Twitter followship to 3,400 through all this.

April 25, 2012

GAME ON: #FlaPanthers Ready for Game 7 v #njDevils in the Glades

BY DAVID J. NEAL [email protected]

TWITTER: @djneal @OnFrozenPond

The big building in Broward planted between swamp and shopping during the optimistic 1990s has seen three names, two playoff series and, Thursday at 8:30 p.m., one Game 7.

The Panthers waited 12 calendar years to bring the NHL playoffs back to South Florida. They dragged clinching the Southeast Division title out to the last game of the season. Now, they’ve dragged – or, been dragged by New Jersey – to the last game of the NHL playoffs’ first round.

“We haven’t made it easy on ourselves all season long, so, why now?” Panthers winger Kris Versteeg said Wednesday.

Versteeg still felt the sting of an uncalled trip as he cut for the Jersey net in overtime of Tuesday’s Game 6 – “Guess the rules changed a bit.” Then again, considering an uncalled trip on the Panthers’ Sean Bergenheim started the sequence to the Panthers second goal Tuesday, perhaps it’s another case of things evening out. That’s the way things have gone in this series in which the cheap shots generally have been confined to Twitter spats between non-combatants over plastic rats.

Each team took a 3-0 lead in the first two games and saw it reduced to 3-2 before hanging on to win. Each team’s scored 15 goals. Both No. 1 goalies got yanked in Game 3 and both produced shutouts the next time they hit the ice, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in Game 4 and the Panthers’ Jose Theodore in Game 5. Speaking of Theodore, who didn’t play in Game 6 because of an injury more secret in Sunrise than Secret Service activities in Colombia, he went through a half-hour practice Wednesday.

“You want to get back in there. You feel good about where your game is at and then there’s a let down,” Theodore said. “Obviously, it was frustrating to watch last game. But, today’s a new day and it’s good to be back on the ice.

“When you’re a kid, wne you play hockey, you imagine Gmae 7 in the Atnely Cup playoffs. It’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win.”

Dineen, who has been coy about his choice of goaltender all season, said, “I just watched him for a few minutes and he looks pretty good out there this morning, so that’s encouraging for us. It gives us that option to go with him tomorrow night and that will be a health-based decision.

Questioned further, Dineen said while the Panthers trusted both Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, “Theo’s been our go-to guy and if he’s available, he’ll be the one running with it.”

Meanwhile, defenseman Jason Garrison, whose cannon shot helped the Panthers blast holes in New Jersey’s league-best penalty-killing unit over the first three games, said he’d likely be a game-time decision.

Game time’s 8:30 p.m., as the NHL chose to stagger the starts of this game and the Ottawa-Rangers Game 7.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Versteeg said. “You want to get started. But you do what’s best for the league. It’s a great time for us and great time to showcase our game.”

History favors neither team. Despite New Jersey’s four Stanley Cup Finals and three Cups since 1993, the Martin Brodeur Era, the franchise is only 6-7 in Game 7s, 3-5 on the road. And all those Cups and Game 7 wins came before the lockout. The post-lockout Devils suffered their own Collapse of 2009 when Carolina scored twice in the last 80 seconds for a 4-3 Game 7 win at New Jersey.

For the Panthers, their Game 7 history’s distance and brevity matches its irrelevance.

It’s been a driver’s age since that June 1996 Saturday night in Pittsburgh, when the Panthers won a Game 7 just the way you aren’t supposed to win them. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck barely kept things even at 1 until Tom Fitzgerald’s third period line change slapshot careened off a leg and past Pittsburgh’s Tom Barrasso. The Panthers popped in an insurance goal for a 3-1 win and the Eastern Conference title.

In the Stanley Cup Final, Colorado ended the Panthers season in an epic Game 4 at Miami Arena. In fact, all three previous Panthers playoff appearances ended on home ice.

Of all the Game 7s, Dineen appeared in as a player, the one he recalled Wednesday didn’t end happily. Back when Carolina called a Hartford mall home, the Whalers went to overtime in Game 7 against Montreal in the 1986’s second round. A tight backhander by Montreal rookie Claude Lemieux sent the French-Canadian Hockey Night in Canada announcers into ecstasy and Canadiens forward in their march to an unlikely Stanley Cup.

But Dineen thought that resembled what’s going on now with the Panthers.

“I think it was a fan base in Hartford that had been re-invigorated,” he said. “There was an enthusiasm, an excitement in town. That’s a little bit what I feel here in South Florida with the amount of recognition you feel away from the rink, that people are engaged with our team. I know this team has a lot of personality, they’re really on board and it’s really an enjoyable time.”

Thursday, we’ll see if it continues.

April 24, 2012

Panthers Game 6 Notebook: Dale Tallon Finalist for GM of the Year ... Garrison Still Out ... Yormark Tweets in Jersey

BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

NEWARK, N.J. – Of all the members of the Florida Panthers up for postseason awards, only one was considered an absolute lock to be a finalist in his category.

On Tuesday, Dale Tallon was officially named one of three finalist for the NHL's General Manager of the Year Award. Tallon joins Nashville's David Poile and Doug Armstrong of St. Louis for the honors; the winner will be announced at the league's award show in Las Vegas on June 20. 

“I feel honored to be selected by my peers,'' Tallon said before Florida took on the host Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference's opening round series.

“For me, it's an honor that is represented by our staff. .-.-. It takes an army. I'm proud of our efforts from our whole team. It's been a fun couple of years.''

Tallon took over a mess in Florida when he was hired in May 2010 and was given more financial allowance than his predecessors. One of Tallon's demands before taking over for Randy Sexton was more money for scouting and hockey operations. 

By all accounts, Tallon and his staff – led by assistant GM Mike Santos and head of amateur scouting Scott Luce – have done a great job stockpiling young talent.

Tallon set the tone for his era in South Florida early on, trading Nathan Horton to Boston for a first round pick and defenseman Dennis Wideman. Tallon went to his first draft and ended up with 13 picks – including three in the opening round. 

Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft, is a mainstay on Florida's blueline. The Panthers prospect system was ranked tops in the league by The Hockey News. 

Aside from bringing in strong young players, Tallon also absolutely remade the Panthers roster in his short time in Sunrise.

When the Panthers played in Game 5 on Saturday, there were 15 players in uniform who weren't with Florida last season. Five of those players weren't even here on Opening Night as Tallon swung deals for the likes of Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm, John Madden and Jerred Smithson during the season. 

“Every day you try to get better,'' Tallon said. “I'm proud of our team, the character and professionalism. There's a love for the game and a respect for the organization. This has been a fun year because I have fun players who care.''

Tallon had a tough decision to make last season when it came to his head coach. Pete DeBoer was Tallon's first coach in Florida but the two didn't get along at the end as DeBoer got frustrated as it was obvious Tallon was looking toward the future.

Around last year's trade deadline, Tallon dumped most of his veteran players – and the contracts that went with them – as the Panthers faded from postseason contention. 

By the end of last season, the Panthers looked like an AHL team with a few major leaguers on rehab assignment. DeBoer was fired the day after the season and Kevin Dineen was brought in. DeBoer was hired to coach the Devils in July. 

“I think that's a good reflection on his staff,'' Dineen said. “Good players make a good organization and he's been able to identify guys who can come in and help us do what we want to accomplish.''

--Although Tallon will be headed to Vegas for the awards show, Panthers winger Tomas Fleischmann will not.

Fleischmann was not one of the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.''

That award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. 

--Jason Garrison (lower body) missed his third straight game as he hasn't been on the ice since Thursday's morning skate. Florida also scratched Jose Theodore (lower body), Keaton Ellerby, Wotjek Wolski, Krys Barch and Mike Santorelli. 

--Panthers president Michael Yormark was involved in a Twitter controversy Tuesday after getting into a few arguments with Devils fans.

On Monday, Yormark blamed Devils fans throwing a few rubber rats onto the ice late in Saturday's win as the reason the NHL asked the team to stop selling them at the team store inside the arena.

After being engaged by a number of New Jersey loyalists, Yormark told one to “get a life,'' and another to “get off Twitter.'' 

“It's all in fun,'' Yormark tweeted before the game.

GOALIE SWITCH: Panthers Scott Clemmensen Stands Tall Against Marty and the Devils

By Zach Schonbrun Special to The Herald

NEWARK, N.J. — For seven years, Scott Clemmensen was the understudy here to one of hockey’s greatest stars, watching from the bench as the Devils goalie Martin Brodeur kept inking more lines onto his Hall of Fame resume.

Clemmensen waited a long time for his solo in the spotlight.

He didn’t disappoint when, on the afternoon of game 6, Coach Kevin Dineen tapped his shoulder to start Tuesday.

In the overtime loss, Clemmensen made 39 saves and withstood a desperate offensive onslaught by the Devils, who outshot Florida 42-16 in the game.
Before New Jersey’s Travis Zajak scored the winning goal at 5:39 in overtime, the backup goalie Clemmensen was looking like the surprise star of the night.

“I just wanted to give us a chance to win, that’s all,” Clemmensen said. “We expected it to be a tight game and we were in a position to win. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

He showed he could perform in game 3 when he replaced Theodore down by three goals in the first and promptly shut down the Devils for a 4-3 win. That earned him a start in game 4, but he allowed four goals on 27 shots in that loss.

After sitting as Theodore beat the Devils in game 5, Clemmensen got the late nod Tuesday when Theodore was scratched due to injury.

Clemmensen began the game looking sharp, turning away the Devils’ first 12 shots before a turnaround by Steve Bernier scooted past him at 16:37 in the first. Clemmensen was visibly irritated at himself for allowing that relatively soft goal.

“I got caught in kind of an awkward spot with my feet,” Clemmensen said. “The puck hit my stick pretty good, I thought I had it actually. It just kind of broke through.”

The Devils then took a 2-0 lead in the second on a power-play goal by Ilya Kovalchuck, a beautifully orchestrated backdoor play that Clemmensen could do little to prevent. But he clamped down after that. After nearly allowing a goal to slip out of his glove — he recovered just before the puck crossed the goal line — Clemmensen regained his focus.

He reserved possibly his best save for midway through the third period, stymieing Alexei Ponikarovsky chance in front of the net with his right leg with 11 minutes to go.

All night the Devils peppered the net, outshooting Florida by an almost incomprehensible margin. They also had six power-play opportunities (including a momentary 5-on-3) while the Panthers never once had a man advantage. 

“Offensive zone possession was the difference,” Dineen said. “Their time with the puck was greater than ours. They put a lot of pucks at Clem.”

The 34-year-old Clemmensen spent seven years with the Devils (during two different stints) but never started a playoff game, waiting behind the indefatigable Brodeur. New Jersey made the playoffs every year Clemmensen was there, but he filled in for Brodeur in them just once, in 2006, for the final seven minutes of a 6-0 loss to Carolina. 

On Tuesday, until overtime, Clemmensen outperformed the player he could never seem to replace.

“I’m very happy with the way he played,” Dineen said. “I can nitpick a couple goals there but I also saw some pretty solid saves there as well.”


RATS TO YOU: Devils Keep on Truckin, Beat Panthers 3-2 in OT to Force Game 7 ... Cats Host on Thursday, Time/TV TBA

BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

NEWARK, N.J. – The Devils were a desperate team, no doubt.

And if there was any thought they weren't, one just had to watch the way they blocked every puck they could get to, hit every member of the Panthers nearby.

The Panthers danced with fire for much of Tuesday's Game 6 and didn't survive the night as Travis Zajac took a pretty feed from Ilya Kovalchuk to beat Scott Clemmensen and the Panthers 3-2 in overtime.

New Jersey's win forced a Game 7 in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal with the Panthers playing host to the Devils in the loser-goes-on-vacation game Thursday at BankAtlantic Center. Time and broadcast information will be determined Wednesday.

“It's already forgotten,'' said Sean Bergenheim, whose goal gave the Panthers life in the second period. “I'm looking forward to a Game 7 in our home barn. In the end, they won a lot of 1-on-1 battles and that was the key. They had a lot of shots and that was from winning those battles.''

New Jersey spent much of the game in the Florida zone, dominating the offensive flow for much of the night. Florida had hoped to close out New Jersey and win its first postseason series since beating the Penguins in the 1996 Eastern Conference final.

Instead, the Panthers head home and try to end the Devils season there.

The Panthers were outshot 42-16 in the game – including 6-3 in overtime – as Clemmensen had to stand tall to give Florida a shot. He did, making 39 saves in relief of an injured Jose Theodore.

“I wanted to give us a chance, that's all,'' Clemmensen said. “We scored the second goal and that gave us life, gave us some urgency. But [the deficit] was never more than two. We played a tight game and we were in a position to win. We were tied in the third, went into overtime on the road. It could have gone either way.''

The Devils were extremely physical early on and outhit the Panthers 15-10 in an opening period in which New Jersey took a 1-0 goal on a hard angle shot from Steve Bernier. A member of the Panthers last season after coming over from Vancouver in the Keith Ballard trade, Bernier has two goals in the series against (some of) his former teammates.

Bernier's goal came when he corralled a loose puck and whipped it at Clemmensen and the puck hit his stick and through his skates with 3:23 left in the period.

The sold-out crowd at Prudential Center went crazy early in the second as the Devils took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal from Kovalchuk. With Tomas Kopecky in the box for a high stick, Kovalchuk snuck in behind Clemmensen and knocked in a nice feed from Travis Zajac with just four seconds remaining in the penalty.

Only the Panthers weren't done. Not by a long shot. Despite some fans already chatting about a for-sure Game 7 on Thursday, the Panthers rallied with another big second period.

Florida, which had outscored New Jersey 7-1 in the second period coming into the night, picked up two big goals to tie things up.

First, Kris Versteeg slid in through the slot and flung a sweet pass from linemate Stephen Weiss past Martin Brodeur less than three minutes after Kovalchuk scored. It was the third goal of the series for Versteeg after he only had one goal in Florida's final 18 games of the season.

Later in the period, Bergenheim scored his third of this postseason and 12th in the past two by knocking a loose puck past Brodeur with 7:11 left. Tyson Strachan, filling in for the injured Jason Garrison, took a shot that Brodeur stopped yet couldn't find. Bergenheim was more than happy to charge in and take brief possession of it, tapping it into the net as Brodeur failed to move.

Both teams had a few chances in the third period although neither scored as the game went to overtime for the first time during the series.

Florida was outshot 7-3 in the third period but had a great chance late when Mikael Samuelsson picked up a loose puck when Mark Fayne whiffed on a pass.

Samuelsson worked the puck deep and dipped and dodged his way into the slot, pulling Brodeur out of the crease. Samuelsson's backhand shot found Brodeur, however, as Bergenheim crashed the net hoping for a piece of the puck.

“Offensive zone position definitely leaned toward the Devils and that was the difference,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

“When you play as much defense as we had to, it tends to wear you down. Our quality chances came in spurts. They put a lot of pressure in our zone. That was probably their best game in this series. The had a heck of a lot of desperation and pushed.''

#FlaPanthers #njDevils Quick Hit: Jose Out, Clemmensen in for Game 6

NEWARK, N.J. - Quick notes after today's morning skate while grabbing a bite.

- Jose Theodore apparently tweaked something at yesterday's practice and Jacob Markstrom has been recalled.

He'll backup Scott Clemmensen tonight - although Kevin Dineen said Theodore is still a possibility to play.

Video from Markstrom on the post below.

- Jason Garrison will not play; expect Tyson Strachan to fill in once more. Same scratched guys as before.

- Dale Tallon is a finalist for GM of the Year. Not surprisingly either.

- Tomas Fleischmann was left out of the Masterton race. 

#FlaPanthers #njDevils Quick Hit: Jose Out, Clemmensen in for Game 6