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Panthers regain Southeast lead with win over Caps

by Alain Poupart /
SUNRISE, Fla. — After scoring on a wrist shot from the neutral zone, firing a wrister from the high slot on a power play must have seemed like a no-brainer for Mikael Samuelsson.

His second goal of the game at 4:57 of the third period broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Florida Panthers on their way to a 4-2 victory against the Washington Capitals at the BankAtlantic Center that helped them regain first place in the Southeast Division.

"You score from outside the blue line, you know what …  sometimes you don't ask how," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "You're putting shots on the net. That's the kind of game we were looking for out of him. ... The two goals were nice, but I thought he had a really solid game. He looked refreshed, he was moving his feet. Good game from Mikael Samuelsson."

The victory gave the Panthers a one-point lead in the Southeast with one game in hand. The teams meet again twice in the next 16 days — Tuesday at Washington and Feb. 17 at Florida.

Samuelsson, a former Stanley Cup winner with Detroit, had his first two-goal game since Feb. 12, 2011 against Calgary when he was a member of the Canucks.

"I don't know if you're going to look at the standings that much," said Samuelsson, who was acquired from Vancouver in an Oct. 22 trade along with Marco Sturm for David Booth and Steven Reinprecht. "You've got to be aware of the standings, but we want to play good hockey and obviously we want to get as many points as possible. It's always good to get in the first spot, but don't look too much for that. We need to find our game and play the game we want to. That's the most important thing."

Stephen Weiss also had a goal, Shawn Matthias scored an empty-netter with 52.8 seconds left and Tomas Fleischmann had two assists.

Scott Clemmensen, making his sixth start in the last eight games, stopped 26 shots.

"I'm really impressed with the game he played tonight," Dineen said of his goaltender. "We had some self-inflicted wounds there toward the last 10 minutes where we kept them in the game by some of our puck decisions and time and again, Scottie came up big for us. That is what you need -- your goaltender to win you some games. He's well deserving of that 'W' tonight."


Samuelsson returning to form

Pete Jensen - Staff Writer
If your fantasy squad is in the thick of a playoff push and in need of a spark on the wing, Mikael Samuelsson is knocking on your door.
Brooks Laich and John Carlson scored for the Capitals, who played their third and final game without suspended star Alex Ovechkin. Washington went 1-1-1 in those games, with a victory over Boston and an overtime loss at Tampa Bay.

With the loss, the Capitals dropped to 8-14-3 on the road this season.

"It's frustrating," Laich said. "This game could have been a catapult to shoot us off the second half. We're back chasing again. Lack of success on the road is not acceptable."

Michal Neuvirth made 34 saves for Washington, but badly misplayed Samuelsson's shot from 88 feet in the second period. It was the second time in two games at Florida this season that the Capitals went with Neuvirth instead of Tomas Vokoun, who spent the previous four seasons with the Panthers.

Samuelsson's wrist shot from outside the blue line somehow got by Neuvirth to the stick side and bounced in off the post. It gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 33 seconds into the second period.

"I was cheating a little bit and he caught me," Neuvirth said. "I never had that happen to me. It's tough, but it is what it is. I was happy I bounced back after that bad goal."

The game-winner came on the power play, with Matt Hendricks in the penalty box for goaltender interference. After taking a pass from Brian Campbell in the middle of the ice inside the blue line, Samuelsson fired a 50-foot wrist shot past Laich that beat Neuvirth to the blocker side.

"That was a good breakout from all the guys," Samuelsson said. "It was good coming back after the break. It was a long time ago we played a power play. It was good to get one there. Good executing and put it to the net and it went in."

Weiss padded the lead at 9:52 with a goal that initially was disallowed but was awarded after a lengthy review.

After Neuvirth stopped Tomas Kopecky's shot from the side, Weiss' backhand rebound attempt went off Neuvirth's stick and bounced in off Weiss' chest just before the Florida center fell backward into the net.

Weiss said he was unaware the goal had been waved off on the ice until after the game.

"It hit my chest," Weiss said. "He just blocked it into me or something and I heard the crowd. It should be a good goal."

Carlson made it 3-2 with 2:21 left in the third period when he intercepted Kopecky's clearing attempt near the blue line and fired a slap shot that beat Clemmensen to the blocker side.

Laich evened the score at 1-1 at 11:15 of the second thanks to a nice individual effort. Laich gained control of the puck behind the Florida net, got away from defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Samuelsson, spun just inside the bottom of the left circle and fired a wrist shot that beat Clemmensen high to the glove side.

Florida outshot Washington 15-11 in a scoreless first period, but the Capitals had the best chance when Jeff Halpern's redirect of a pass from Jason Chimera bounced off the right post.

"I thought we played hard," Washington coach Dale Hunter said. "One of the goals was a long shot that we definitely want back and one was waved off. We were in the game. That's the breaks of hockey. You don't want to give those up. It gives the other team energy."
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