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Goc leads Panthers past Canucks, 2-1

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers got more bad news Monday when it comes to their goaltending situation. That only made Scott Clemmensen's performance all the more significant.

Clemmensen, making his second start in three games with Jose Theodore sidelined with a knee injury, made 25 saves to lead the Panthers to a 2-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks at the BankAtlantic Center on Monday night.

"Not too shabby at all," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "He's really done a job for us and I think his result is really indicative of his play this year. You can look at different games and different scenarios, but in the overall picture he's had a really solid year for us."

In improving to 5-1-3 this season, Clemmensen made some key saves in the third period when Vancouver outshot Florida 14-2. He also stopped a breakaway in the first period.

"I don't think there's much to say," said center Marcel Goc, who was the offensive star with a goal and an assist. "He stopped everything. He was there when we needed him. We know we can count on him every night. He was great today."

Clemmensen's backup against Vancouver was Brian Foster, who was recalled from San Antonio on Monday. Foster replaced top prospect Jacob Markstrom, who had his injured knee re-examined Monday and is now expected to be out "a little while," according to Dineen.

Clemmensen's performance on Monday night kept Vancouver's Alain Vigneault from earning the nod as a coach for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa. Instead, it will be San Jose's Todd McLellan. The spot is determined by which team has the greatest points percentage in the Western Conference through Monday's games. Rangers coach John Tortorella wrapped up the Eastern Conference's spot Friday.

Dmitry Kulikov had the other goal for the Panthers, who won for only the third time in nine games (3-4-2).

The game marked the start of the second half for the Panthers, who surprisingly find themselves in first place in the Southeast Division but hadn't recorded a signature victory since shutting out Boston, 2-0, on Dec. 8.

"We believe that we can beat anyone in the League on any given night," Clemmensen said. "Vancouver is one of the best teams in the League. We think we can beat them. We showed it tonight. It's the mentality of this team. We expect to compete. We expect to win."

Dale Weise scored for Vancouver (26-14-3), which was coming off an emotional 4-3 victory at Boston Saturday in a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Final.

"We've got to find the emotions to win this game," said Daniel Sedin. "It was there for us and we let it slip away."

Roberto Luongo, who spent five seasons with Florida before being traded to Vancouver in June 2006, stopped 20 shots for the Canucks. Luongo came into the game with a 3-0-1 record and a 1.68 goals-against average against Florida since the trade.

Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard, another former Florida player, played in his 500th NHL game.

The loss was Vancouver's first in Sunrise since Oct. 20, 1999. The Canucks had gone 8-0-1 with two ties since then.

"I think we came out really strong," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, "but if you're off 3 or 4 percent in a League like this, against a team that's surprising a lot of guys this year, you need to play well."

While Florida held the League's No. 1 power play scoreless in three chances, Goc scored the game-winner at 10:52 of the second period with the Panthers on the man advantage.

"We won the special teams game, which is a key thing against the Vancouver Canucks," Dineen said. "They're a really talented team and they can light you up on the power play like they did in Boston the other night. There's the difference in the hockey game. We get one and keep them off the boards."

Goc, who returned to action last Thursday night after missing 22 games because of a concussion, put home a rebound in front of the net with a group of players in front of Luongo. He has 2 goals and 2 assists in his three games back.

Goc's goal came after Mikael Samuelsson, who also returned to action last week after missing considerable time with an injury, sent a cross-ice pass to Kris Versteeg.

"I'm a much better coach this week than I was last week," said Dineen, who also now has the services of veteran center John Madden after he made his Panthers' debut last Friday night at New Jersey. "When you've got quality players in the lineup, it just makes your job easier. They understand their responsibilities. They go out there, they play the right way."

Earlier in the second period, Kulikov tied the score at 1 when he picked up a rebound outside of the left circle and fired a slap shot that beat Luongo to the short side.

Kulikov's goal at 5:00 snapped Luongo's shutout streak in regulation at 114:28. Luongo shut out Minnesota 3-0 on Jan. 4 after the Canucks lost a 3-2 shootout decision against San Jose two days earlier.

"I really liked our second period," Dineen said. "I thought we kept a strong pace of play and we created opportunities."

Two minutes after Kulikov's goal, Jason Garrison had a breakaway with the Panthers shorthanded, but Luongo made a pad save.

The Panthers dominated throughout the second period, outshooting Vancouver 14-2. It tied for the fewest shots allowed in a period by the Panthers.

"That second period enabled their team to believe they had a chance to win, and when a team starts believing they're in game and they have a chance to win, sometimes good things happen," Vigneault said. "In the third period, their goaltender made the saves he needed to make and we couldn't score."

Vancouver opened the scoring 3:11 into the game when Weise scored on a 2-on-1. He tipped in a pass from Manny Malhotra after Malhotra beat defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a loose puck at the blue line to create the breakout.

Weise had a chance to increase the lead when he had a breakaway later in the first period, but Clemmensen stopped his attempt to beat him through the 5-hole.

Clemmensen said he was brought back to his last start at the BankAtlantic Center when he gave up three goals on 14 shots — one on a partial breakaway — against the New York Rangers and was pulled in the first period of a 4-1 loss on Dec. 30.

"Coming back for this start here tonight, and the short time it's been since that game, it was a big save for me," Clemmensen said. "Not only for the team, but obviously for me as well. That was one I think I'm going to look back and say that was probably the key save for me during the game.

"A team like Vancouver, you're not going to score four, five goals against. They're such a good team. To go down two goals to nothing against them early is very difficult. It's a good save for me, but all in all, the team played so well."
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