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Wheeler's goal one for the tapes

Monday, 12.22.2008 / 8:45 AM / Game-Day Skate

By Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

A few thoughts while we wish Patrice Bergeron a speedy return to good health in the wake of his most recent concussion:

One for the highlight reels -- There have certainly been times this season when the Boston Bruins have made it look easy in racing to the best record in the Eastern Conference. In their latest triumph, a 6-3 win Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, rookie Blake Wheeler scored a shorthanded goal that had to leave fans at Scottrade Center with their eyes open wide.

Wheeler had already scored a goal early in the first to give the Bruins the lead when he broke in with teammate Dave Krejci on Blues goaltender Manny Legace -- or at least he thought. The University of Minnesota product ending up putting on a spin-o-rama move to notch his 11th of the season.

"I initially was looking to make a pass back to Krejci," Wheeler said. "He kind of abandoned me. He went off for a change and the only thing I could do was react. There was a guy coming at me and I just kind of reacted. I got lucky."

Lucky hardly describes how the Bruins have been able to go 19-3-1 since the start of November, opening up a six-point lead in the conference over the Rangers. And it's safe to say their next opponent, New Jersey, won't be taking anything for granted when the teams meet Tuesday night at the Prudential Center in Newark.

"It's better when the team wins," said Krejci, who had three first-period assists. "I was just happy to get the two points. I hope we can get two points in New Jersey and get a nice Christmas break."

Speak of the Devils -- It's all but a foregone conclusion that Scott Clemmensen will be in the net for the New Jersey Devils when they play the front-running Bruins. The man who started the season playing for Lowell in the AHL improved to 11-1-1 in his last 13 starts by registering a 3-2 shootout victory on home ice Sunday afternoon over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Clemmensen made 27 saves through regulation and overtime, then stopped four of five attempts by the Flyers in the penalty-shot competition, holding the Devils in until Travis Zajac won it in the fifth round.

"There's a tremendous amount of confidence in him, from his teammates and from the coaching staff," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "He now has the confidence he can do it and we have the confidence in him. Clemmer made some big saves in the shootout and did a good job."

When the Devils lost Martin Brodeur, the initial focus was on whether Kevin Weekes could handle the starting job. Clemmensen, who was called up from the minors, was an afterthought. But now he's front and center as the Devils are climbing the Atlantic Division standings.

"Every time I take the ice, I feel like I have to prove that I can handle anything thrown my way," Clemmensen said. "I just have to be consistent. I think I'm showing that I belong."

A great place to play -- It was a successful night at Bell Centre for the Carolina Hurricanes -- goaltender Cam Ward and captain Eric Staal in particular. Ward improved to 9-2-2 career against the Montreal Canadiens with a 26-save performance, and Staal had a hand in all three goals in a 3-2 overtime win Sunday.

"It's something about this building and something about playing this team that brings out the best in a lot of guys in our room," said Staal, who assisted on Tuomo Ruutu's game-winner, after earlier scoring a 5-on-3 goal. "This is a great building to play in. It was a huge snowstorm outside and it was jammed in warmups.

"It was a lot of fun to try and quiet down 21-plus thousand and score some goals, so it was a huge win for our team. We came to compete, we came to skate and it was a solid effort."

Ward's rise to prominence came three seasons ago against Montreal in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he took over the goaltending from a struggling Martin Gerber and helped Carolina win that series and three more to lift the Cup.

"It's definitely easy to get up for a game and get excited when you're playing in Montreal," Ward said. "The atmosphere is always tremendous here and that's a credit to the fans in the building. They're some of the loudest fans that I've ever played in front of, so for whatever reason we just enjoy playing here."

Back in the saddle -- Not every goaltender would react well if his No. 1 job was suddenly in jeopardy. But when Craig Anderson got into a groove and Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer stuck with him for a stretch of games earlier in the season, Tomas Vokoun refused to get down.

Now it seems Vokoun has found his game and reclaimed his status as the Panthers' go-to goalie. He stopped all 23 shots the Colorado Avalanche put on him Sunday in a 3-0 win at BankAtlantic Center, recording his 27th career shutout.

 
 
"In things like this you can get frustrated and feel sorry or you can work on your game," Vokoun said. "This is a team sport and you have to consider the team before yourself. If you don't play, you have to work harder to be better."

Brett McLean and Richard Zednik staked Vokoun and the Panthers to a 2-0 lead with second-period goals, but that was all the scoring until Bryan McCabe's empty-net goal in the final minutes.

"I think we dictated the pace in the first and second," DeBoer said. "I didn't like the way we played in the third but Vokoun made some big saves. He was a real rock for us in the third."

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.



Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares