Last year, Scott Clemmensen was instrumental in helping the Devils secure the Atlantic Division title. Thursday night in Florida, he put New Jersey’s 2010 divisional hopes on hold.
Clemmensen withstood incredible pressure in the third period and finished with 42 saves in the Devils’ 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. The Devils threw everything they had at the ex-Devil, who recorded 21 saves in the final frame alone.
Radek Dvorak broke a 1-1 tie at 1:14 of the third and Nathan Horton added an insurance marker with 7:37 to go. That turned out to be the winning score. Jason Garrison’s shot from the point was kicked into the left corner by Martin Brodeur. But Horton gathered the rebound and stepped to the left circle to make it a 3-1 contest.
Mike Mottau cut the Devils' deficit to one with 5:14 left. Horton’s hooking penalty on Ilya Kovalchuk put the Devils on the power play for the final 1:33 of the contest, but they couldn’t squeeze the tying goal past Clemmensen after pulling Brodeur for a 6-on-4 advantage.
Patrik Elias had the other goal for the Devils (46-27-7, 99pts), who share a first-place tie with Pittsburgh atop the Atlantic. The Penguins routed the Islanders, 7-3, on Thursday.
The Devils and Penguins have identical records with two games to go. Should they finish even in both points and wins, the Devils would own the second tiebreak based on head-to-head play. They went 6-0 in the season series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Jersey's Team returns home to close out the regular season versus the Islanders on Saturday and the Sabres on Sunday. At stake is their shot at a ninth Atlantic Division title and 12th 100-point season.
"We just have to keep plugging, play as hard as we can, and try to win games," head coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Get back on a winning track."
How much Thursday’s loss impacts the Devils’ division quest remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Clemmensen was the difference in the game. Devils fans remember his contributions well. After beginning last season in Lowell (AHL), he arrived in New Jersey to win 25 games while Brodeur recovered from a left elbow injury.
Clemmensen signed with Florida last summer and has posted a 9-7-1 mark in 21 appearances with the Panthers. Two of those wins have been against the Devils, including a 4-2 victory at the Rock on Dec. 11.
“He played great,” said Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner. “We reaped the benefits of it last year, and he’s a good goalie, especially when he gets on a roll. He definitely did tonight. We did a good job of making it hard on him, and putting a lot of shots up there. He was on. Sometimes you have those nights.”
After back-to-back shutouts in Carolina and Atlanta, Brodeur saw his scoreless streak end at 151 minutes, 29 seconds. He finished with 15 saves in his first regulation loss in his last five outings.
The Devils’ winning streak was snapped at two games and they were foiled in their bid for their first three-game winning streak of 2010. But this loss didn’t come down to a lack of execution. The Devils simply ran into a hot goaltender.
“I don’t think we played bad here,” Lemaire said. “We had probably 14 [scoring] chances to seven after two periods. I didn’t check in the third, but we had over 20 shots so we must have had some chances there. What more do you want?”
Elias scored 59 seconds into the second period for a 1-0 lead. Zach Parise fired on goal from the right boards, and both Elias and Dainius Zubrus got whacks at it before Elias knocked the puck in on his backhand. Elias’s 17th of the season gave him two goals and two assists in his last four games.
Michael Frolik tied it on a nice individual effort. He beat Brodeur’s blocker side with a shot from the left circle for his 20th at 6:03.
Dvorak broke the tie, one-timing a Rostislav Olesz pass from the slot at 1:14 of the third. Brodeur got a piece of it with his left skate, but not enough, as the puck squibbed over the goal line. It marked the first time the Devils had trailed in a game since March 28 at Philadelphia.
David Clarkson set up Mottau’s tally that got New Jersey back to within one. Clarkson found a seam and snapped a pass back Mottau, who stepped to the high slot for a wrist shot at 14:46.
Kovalchuk fired a game-high seven shots on goal. … Andy Greene was rested, and Mark Fraser appeared in his third straight game. … The Devils close out the road portion of their schedule with a mark of 21-17-3.