NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen is set to earn the first playoff start of his career on Thursday when he faces his former team, the New Jersey Devils, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Prudential Center.
While Panthers coach Kevin Dineen wouldn't commit to either Clemmensen or Jose Theodore following his team's morning skate at Prudential Center, Clemmensen did skate off the ice first. The first goalie off the ice at a game-day skate is usually the starter.
Getting the playoff nod in the state where it all began and against one of the greatest goalies in League history will certainly be a humbling experience for Clemmensen.
"I think there's always a little bit of nerves regardless of the situation," Clemmensen told reporters after practice. "I believe the crowd will be rocking tonight and you can always feel the atmosphere here, so if I'm the starter, I'll be ready for that as well.
"It's a building that I like playing in," he continued. "I like these fans. It's always a lot of fun. I don't care how loud they boo me … I love them."
Clemmensen stopped 19 shots in a spectacular relief stint as his team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to earn a 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday to grab a 2-1 series lead.
Florida coach Kevin Dineen, who wouldn't tip his hand as to which goalie would start, did praise Clemmensen for the quality work he provided the team down the stretch.
"For two months now, Clem has been an excellent goaltender, maybe one of the top guys in the League," Dineen said. "What he does have is a tremendous amount of respect from the coaching staff, from his teammates and I think from people that know him. You can tell just from the response from the people here in Jersey that he's a hard guy to dislike, and I think as a teammate that would fit his character."
In addition to subbing for Jose Theodore (three goals allowed on six shots) just 6:16 into the first period on Tuesday, Clemmensen's only other playoff appearance was in relief of Martin Brodeur in Game 1 of a 6-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals in Raleigh. He would play the final 6:53 of that game, turning aside all three shots he faced.
Not only is Clemmensen 5-0-0 against the Devils in his career, including Tuesday's win, but he has yet to allow a playoff goal in two relief stints totaling 60:37 of playing time.
Despite his lack of playoff experience in 10 NHL seasons, Dineen wasn't at all concerned.
"I have no doubt that he would play well," Dineen said. "Here's a guy who's been around a long time and has played with Marty Brodeur and Tomas Vokoun, and now Jose Theodore. A guy like [Panthers goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom] could learn a heck of a lot from a guy like Scott Clemmensen. It's nice having guys not only game ready, but extremely mature professional players. It's been a pleasure dealing with all the goalies this year."
Some have said he has an advantage over the Devils, a team he spent five seasons with from 2001-02 through 2006-07 as a backup to Brodeur.
Does he think so?
"Maybe. I do probably know a little bit more of their tendencies having played with them, but I don't think that's a huge difference-maker," Clemmensen said. "This time of year, everyone is fighting so hard that it just comes down to winning. I think my unbeaten record against the Devils is mostly coincidence.
"I don't think I prepare any differently playing against these guys, want to win any more or try any harder than I do against other teams. It's so hard to win in this League, I don't care who you're playing. You go over everything at pre-scout meetings anyway … it's not something I know and am keeping to myself."
Devils forward Zach Parise feels Clemmensen is an even better goalie now than when he played for New Jersey.
"I think technically, he is," Parise said. "He played great when he was with us, but I think he's technically a better goalie now. He plays well against us, too. We'll have to make life a little harder for him."
Brodeur also praised Clemmensen.
"He's a great guy, worked really hard and is a good goalie," Brodeur said. "When I got hurt [during the 2008-09 season], he came in and, even though he didn't start the season with us, got himself back here and did really well for us. He earned a nice contract in Florida and now he's taking advantage of that."
Here is the probable Game 3 lineup for the Panthers:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson