Scott Clemmensen made the saves he needed to make to give his team a chance to win, only this time, he did it for the visitors.
The Devils faced their former goaltender Friday night at the Rock and suffered a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. Clemmensen, who came up from the minors last season to win 25 games for New Jersey, made 26 saves for his fifth victory of the season.
Brian Rolston and Dean McAmmond scored for the Devils, who trailed 3-0 before seeing their winning streak snapped at four games. Florida's Michael Frolik notched his second goal of the game in the third period, just 1:18 after McAmmond's first of the season had brought the Devils back within a goal at 3-2.
Andy Greene fell after losing his edge, freeing up Frolik for a breakaway chance that he used to beat Martin Brodeur to his stick side. Florida snapped a four-game road skid and handed the Devils just their second loss in their last 11 home games.
"They got a couple of breaks," Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We can't deny that they got some breaks on a couple of goals. If you look at their fourth goal as an example, our defenseman falls and they get a breakaway. They scored on two tips, which could go in either direction for the goalie to stop it. We needed a break at a certain time, which we never got. I thought both teams skated, both teams played hard."
Clemmensen got his first opportunity for regular NHL playing time last season, when Brodeur went down for 50 games with a left elbow injury. Once Brodeur's backup, Clemmensen made the most of the starting role, going 25-13-1 in 40 appearances.
Clemmensen signed with Florida during the offseason and returned to Prudential Center on Friday to send the red-hot Devils to a rare defeat. The Devils' faithful cheered when his name was announced in the starting lineup, then again when he was named as the game's Third Star.
"He did what he had to do," said Brodeur, who had 18 stops. "He wasn't really tested much, but he didn't beat himself. I guess that's the only thing you ask from a goalie."
New Jersey (21-8-1) closes out a grueling stretch of seven games in 11 days on Saturday night when they host Philadelphia.
"We'd like to play perfectly every game, but it's not going to happen," Brodeur said. "We've definitely got to shake this off and move on. We're playing a team (tomorrow) that we've lost twice to. It's a little more incentive for us to be ready."
Lemaire didn't feel his team overlooked the slumping Panthers, who entered the game 13th in the East.
"I don't think so," he said. "They knew about them. They know this is a good team. As a matter of fact, I told them about the parity in the League. A year or two ago, you had some lower teams and now you don't. They're all good teams. And the team that doesn't work one night, they'll be done."
His Devils trailed 1-0 after the first period despite outshooting Florida, 9-4.
The Panthers scored on their first shot of the contest. Jordan Leopold's fourth of the season – a one-timer from the slot at 3:53 – was set up by Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, each of whom finished with two assists.
Florida outshot the Devils, 9-0, to open the second period and struck twice in a span of 1:05 to build a 3-0 cushion early in the frame.
Frolik's eighth of the year made it 2-0 on the power play. With Bryce Salvador in the box for hooking, Frolik redirected Keith Ballard's shot from the left point point past Brodeur at 2:24.
It was 3-0 after Shawn Matthias' second of the season. Steven Reinprecht walked the puck out of the corner for a sharp-angle shot from the bottom of the right circle, and Matthias got a stick on it for a tip at 3:29.
Rolston's 11th put New Jersey on the board with their first shot of the second. Rolston, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner worked the puck up ice, and Elias set up Rolston's shot from the left circle that sneaked under Clemmensen's catching glove at 7:16.
"On Rolie's shot, the puck dropped," Lemaire said. "I think it hit the defenseman's stick, there. But besides that, (Clemmensen) was very good; excellent."
Early in the third, McAmmond's first goal as a Devil got them within one at 3-2. His centering feed from the left corner deflected off Ballard's skate and by Clemmensen at 1:05.
"We had a little bit of life there for a bit, yeah," said McAmmond after ending a 23-game goal drought. "It's nice to help contribute, but it's not as much about me getting a goal as it is about us winning. I'd really rather have a win. I've had some better games and some better chances and (no goals). That's just the way it is."
Just 1:18 later, Horton led Frolik on a breakaway to close out the scoring at 4-2.
"You make that save and that makes the difference in the hockey game as far as the momentum," Brodeur said. "We were getting back and missed a couple shots here and there and we're right back in the game. A huge breakdown. You have to make plays sometimes and I didn't make the save."
Rolston has five goals in his last seven games. … Langenbrunner's assist extended his points streak to seven games (2g-6a-8pts). … Elias' assist gave him points in three straight (1g-2a-3pts). … Greene caught a Frolik shot in the chin in the opening minute of the second period, and wound up with eight stitches.
1 - 0 FLA