Versteeg and company celebrate his first period goal. Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Day After: Panthers Ground Jets To Extend Division Lead

When the All-Star break hit for the Florida Panthers last week, fans hoped the break would allow the team to regroup for a playoff push following a brutal January. So far, so good. The Panthers won their second straight game since the break Friday night, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at the Bank Atlantic Center. Kris Versteeg scored his 20th goal of the season while Scott Clemmensen continued his strong play with by saving 20 of the 21 shots he faced.

The Panthers that have been on the ice for the past two games are starting to resemble the team that everyone saw in November and early December: taking few penalties while taking advantage of their own power play opportunities , limiting pucks on their net and outshooting their opponent. That’s good news as the Cats finished up game number two in a four game stretch against Southeast Division opponents. The even better news is that the win comes in regulation once again, allowing the Panthers to stretch their division lead to three points over the Washington Capitals and five points over the Jets.

And it was on the power play that the Panthers opened up the game’s scoring account. Versteeg capped off some great passing between Brian Campbell and Mikael Samuelsson with a one-timer that beat Chris Mason, thanks in large part to a great screen from Tomas Kopecky. For Versteeg, it was his sixth goal against the Jets in four games played against them which will probably add to the boos he received there last game.

As per policy for Panthers home games, the opponent had to tie the game. Bryan Little capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by Versteeg and beat Clemmensen to even things at 1 with 8:31 left in the second period. Not to be outdone, Sean Bergenheim scored what would be the eventual game winner not more than three minutes later when his shot from a Marcel Goc pass crossed the goal line just enough to make it 2-1. Goc got the whole thing started with a big faceoff win in the Jet’s zone back to Jason Garrison, who picked up the second assist on the goal.

While nursing the one goal lead in the third, the Panthers defense stood strong, limiting the Jets to only seven shots on Clemmensen’s cage in the period. That’s a far cry from the last time these two teams faced off (1/21 in Winnipeg) where the Jets battered Clemmensen early and often to the tune of 44 shots. In the end, the Panther defense held up and they were able to bank two points and add to the division lead.

No time to celebrate the win as it’s a quick turnaround as the Cats will finish off the in-state series with the Tampa Bay Lightning (the only SE Division team to beat the Panthers more than once this season) Saturday night at the Tampa Times Forum. Kevin Dineen stated postgame that Clemmensen will likely get another night of work for this game instead of rookie Brian Foster. And he’s earned it. Despite some shaky starts in late December, Clemmensen has surpassed expectations with his work this season overall and gives Dineen the tandem he hoped for when the season began.

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Tags: Brian Campbell Brian Foster Bryan Little Chris Mason Florida Panthers Jason Garrison Kevin Dineen Kris Versteeg Marcel Goc Mikael Samuelsson Scott Clemmensen Sean Bergenheim Tampa Bay Lightning Tomas Kopecky Washington Capitals Winnipeg Jets

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