The Florida Panthers went to Washington for a Southeast Division showdown Tuesday and left smarting. But they responded in a big way Saturday afternoon.
After defeating Los Angeles at home Thursday, the Panthers went to New Jersey and knocked off the Devils, 3-1, at Prudential Center. Scott Clemmensen stopped 27 shots against his former team for the win.
"Very satisfying win built on team effort," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We got a lot of quality minutes out of players."
Florida (26-17-11) extended its lead in the Southeast Division over the Capitals to two points.
Clemmensen has allowed a goal in the first three minutes of the game in seven of his past 17 starts, and that trend continued Saturday, as former Panther Steve Bernier scored his first goal in 366 days 1:39 into the first period. Bernier has played seven games for the Devils since being recalled from AHL affiliate Albany on Jan. 30.
After the goal, Florida improved over the remainder of the first period, closing scoring gaps and protecting Clemmensen.
"That's what you need for your goaltender," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "It was an important game for us. It is important to get wins."
Clemmensen, who has been filling in for starter Jose Theodore, wouldn't concede again. His 27 saves improved his record to 10-4-5. It is the most wins Clemmensen has had in a season since his breakout campaign with the Devils in 2008-09, when he filled in for an injured Martin Brodeur and won 25 times in 40 games.
The Devils (31-20-4) have now lost two in a row after a five-game winning streak that included victories against division rivals Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the Rangers twice.
"It's a missed opportunity," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We didn't do enough, made a couple mistakes, and they made us pay."
Sean Bergenheim scored a power-play goal to level this contest at 15:08 of the first period. He deflected a point shot by rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson for his 11th goal of the season.
Signed in the offseason after a star turn with Tampa Bay in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he now has 11 goals in only 34 games this season. His career high is 15 tallies in 59 games four years ago with the Islanders.
Kris Versteeg gave the Panthers the lead at 7:43 of the middle period. It was Versteeg's team-leading 21st goal of the season and fourth in seven games. He had just one in the previous 13 contests.
"I think Steeger is a big game player, a big-game goal scorer. He played on both sides of special teams," Dineen said. "I was happy with the way he responded."
Mikael Samuelsson added an empty-net tally with 25 seconds left in the final period to seal the victory. Florida had lost 16 of 24 after a 4-0 defeat by the Capitals on Tuesday, and had relinquished its lead in the division, but the Panthers are back in control in the Southeast.
"A game like this late in the year is better than a game like this earlier in the year," Clemmensen added. "For us to do it here is good. It's a road win; good for us."