Panthers stay hot with win over slumping Senators

Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The team seemingly going nowhere has suddenly come alive with its fourth win in its past five games.
On the other side, the team with near-certain postseason plans has hit a brick wall with four straight losses.
That, in short, was the story Sunday night as the Florida Panthers defeated the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, at the BB&T Center.
Ottawa's Craig Anderson -- who has dominated the Panthers over the years and has been arguably the best goalie in the NHL this season -- was outplayed by the Panthers' backup.
Scott Clemmensen, playing for the first time in seven games, made 35 stops to lead Florida.
"It's not easy going long stretches between games, but it's a situation I've been in many times in the past," Clemmensen said. "I think experience helps. And then it was a matter of getting those first couple of saves in."
Meanwhile, Anderson, who had been out since he hurt his ankle Feb. 21 against the Rangers -- a total of 19 games missed -- entered Sunday 9-0-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average in his past 10 starts against Florida, including two shutouts.
Entering Sunday, Anderson also led all NHL goalies in GAA (1.49) and save percentage (.952).
But on Sunday night, Anderson gave up a 1-0 lead, and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov got a power-play goal with 9:14 left in the game to win the game.
Tomas Kopecky set up the play by drawing a holding call on Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar. With 44 seconds left on the power play -- the Panthers had passed the puck repeatedly before shooting -- Kulikov's wrist shot from beyond the left circle finally got past Anderson.
The assists went to Brian Campbell and Jonathan Huberdeau.
"When our special teams are going, we have a better chance to win," Kulikov said. "We tried to move the puck quick, get them running around, and when the shot opens up, take it."
After Kulikov's goal, the Panthers held on, thanks in large part to their penalty kill, which entered the game ranked last in the NHL.
The Senators drew a two-minute hooking penalty on Peter Mueller with 4:48 left. But the Panthers killed that as well as another penalty -- Shawn Matthias was called for tripping -- with 9.2 seconds left.
For the night, the Panthers were a perfect 5 for 5 on the PK.
"Special teams and their goalie ended up being the difference in the game," Senators coach Paul MacLean said.
With the loss, Ottawa (44 points) remains sixth in the fight for one of eight Eastern Conference playoff spots. But the Senators' losing streak has left them vulnerable to getting passed by teams such as the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, each with 42 points.
MacLean, though, tried to put a positive spin on things.
"I thought we played great, dominated the whole game for the most part," he said. "We played hard for the 60 minutes. We created opportunities. We just have to find a way for our power play (to score) and get more pucks to the net."
Despite their current hot streak, the Panthers (32 points) are still in last place in the conference and a long shot to make the postseason.
With 12:26 elapsed in the first period, the Senators snapped a scoreless tie when Jakob Silfverberg made a slick interior pass from right to left, and rookie Cory Conacher put the puck in past an out-of-position Clemmensen.
It was Conacher's 10th goal of the season and his first since being acquired last week from Tampa Bay.
The Panthers tied the score 68 seconds into the second period when Marcel Goc got a tip-in for his fifth goal of the year. The assists went to Tomas Fleischmann and Kopecky.
Looking ahead, Conacher is eager for the Senators' next game, which is Tuesday at Tampa Bay, his former team.
"It's going to be weird -- I've been thinking about it a little bit," Conacher said. "I built a lot of good relationships with those guys in Tampa. It will be interesting to battle against them.
"I'm usually that gritty player who likes to chirp and get in guys' heads. It might be a little different with those guys. But I'm going to still try and play my same game and hopefully come out on top."
NOTES: The Senators entered Sunday having won 11 of their past 12 games against the Panthers, including the first two this year. ... Overall, the Senators have been slumping, losing four straight in regulation for the first time all year. ... Center Nick Bjugstad, the Panthers' No. 1 selection in 2010 (19th pick overall) who made his NHL debut on Saturday, is the nephew of Scott Bjugstad, who played in the NHL for Minnesota from 1983 to 1993. ... Saturday in his debut against the Capitals, Bjugstad played 13 minutes, made three hits, took one shot and was even in his plus-minus rating. The former University of Minnesota star also won 45 percent of his face-offs. ... Senators' rookie Cory Conacher, who made his debut with the team on Friday after being acquired from Tampa Bay, is second in points this season among NHL rookies with 24. He entered Sunday just two points behind the leader, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau. ... Panthers' winger Jack Skille returned Saturday from an upper-body injury that had kept him out since March 23. ... Panthers' rookie forward Drew Shore is still out due to a wrist injury. ... Up next, the Panthers will play at Winnipeg on Thursday. ... The Senators continue their season-long seven-game road trip with a visit to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

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