Stephen Weiss and Sean Bergenheim scored a goal each, and netminder Scott Clemmensen, who got his first start in nearly three weeks, stopped 35 of 36 shots to lift the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers to their fifth consecutive victory, 2-1 over the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Florida increased its lead to five points (85-80) over the idle Washington Capitals in the Southeast race as Clemmensen continued his strong play against Philadelphia, improving to 4-1-1 lifetime against the Flyers.
"You want to do whatever it takes to create that distance between teams," said Cats' defender Ed Jovanovski. "Eleven out of 12 points in the last six games has been nice for us. Climbing in the standings, putting that little gap between Washington and Winnipeg and we'll see what happens. It feels good. It becomes contagious, you know, when you win, you find ways to win. Today, our goaltender was great and that gave us a chance to win."
The opening period was all about missed chances for Philly, as the Flyers failed to capitalize on four first-period power plays. Shortly after a Kris Versteeg minor expired, Weiss carried the puck along the right wing side into the Philadelphia zone. The ice opened up in the middle, and Weiss hit the top of the right circle and followed the path of least resistance into the slot, wristing a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov's blocker side for his 18th goal of the season and a 1-0 Florida lead at 13:04.
"If you get the kills, guys feed off of them and you find ways to reward the group that killed off all of the penalties," said Jovanovski. "(Weiss) made a great play just inside the blue line there and froze Bryz and got a great shot. So it was nice, after all of that hard work, to grab the lead on them."
Despite the 4-0 margin in man advantages and outshooting the Panthers by an 11-4 count, Philly found itself trailing 1-0 at the first intermission.
While Philadelphia couldn't cash in on any of its early power-play opportunities, Florida did take full advantage of its first chance with the extra skater. With Jaromir Jagr in the sin bin for hooking, Bergenheim was the recipient of a fortunate bounce for the Panthers, as Brian Campbell's wraparound hit a bad spot in the glass behind the Flyers' cage, and hopped out front to the Florida winger. Bergenheim was all alone, and calmly lifted a shot over Bryzgalov's blocker to the short side and inside the post for his 17th goal of the year and a 2-0 lead for the visitors.
"Bounces happen and certainly that was a good bounce for us tonight and we found a way to get the win," said Panthers' head coach Kevin Dineen after the game.
It was the first PP goal yielded by Bryzgalov since February 25 -- a stretch of 12 games.
The Flyers would get a bounce of their own a minute and a half later, when Eric Wellwood threw the puck towards the goal from behind the net, and it banked off the skate of Jovanovski and past Clemmensen for his fourth goal of the season, cutting the Florida lead to 2-1 after two periods.
Clemmensen was holding the Panthers in the game, as Philly outshot the Cats by a wide margin again in the middle frame, this time 13-6 to make it 24-10 after two periods.
It was more of the same in the third, as the Flyers kept the pressure in the Panthers' end. Clemmensen needed to come up with 12 more saves in the final frame, with Philadelphia outshot the Panthers 12-3 in the period, and 36-13 for the night. The netminder increased his season record to 12-6-5.
The night was all about being opportunistic. The Panthers made the most of just 13 shots on goal, while the Flyers couldn't score on the power play or beat Clemmensen more than once, despite the high shot total.
The regulation loss was Bryzgalov's first in the last 10 contests (8-1-1), as the goaltender's record fell to 30-14-7 for the year.
The loss snapped a Philadelphia five-game home winning streak in March, in which Philly had outscored their opponents by a 20-7 count. The Flyers lost two more points in the battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, as the Pens drilled the Winnipeg Jets, 8-4. Pittsburgh now leads Philly by four points, 96-92.
It also stopped a two-game streak of the Flyers' coming back from 2-0 deficits to win games, as they took both contests over the weekend (Boston Bruins and Penguins) after falling behind by a pair. Clemmensen made sure Tuesday night was not a third consecutive time.
The victory enabled Florida to avoid a season series sweep by Philadelphia, who had won the first three meetings of the year.