Friday, December 20, 2013
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Panthers top Senators for 5th win in row

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[December 20, 2013]  OTTAWA  The Florida Panthers are turning everything around.

Once languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they won their fifth in a row Thursday at Canadian Tire Centre to close in on the pack chasing a playoff spot.

What's more, their 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators was made possible by the play of their special teams, which were anything but special in the past.

A power-play goal by defenseman Tom Gilbert with 2:32 left in the third period broke a 2-2 tie, and a short-handed effort by winger Tomas Kopecky 51 seconds later improved the Panthers' record to 14-17-5. Florida is just five points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who hold down the last Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

The Panthers entered the night with the NHL's 30th-ranked power play and 29th-ranked penalty kill.

"It was a great effort, (but) I didn't think it was necessarily our best game," said Gilbert, whose second of the season came off a setup by winger Tomas Fleischmann that gave him an open side. "Our special teams had been struggling, and it's nice to have that come through, especially late in the game for us.

"And your best player is always your goaltender," Gilbert added, nodding toward Scott Clemmensen, "and he's been great for us."


Clemmensen stopped 32 shots to extend his personal winning streak to four games. Senators goalie Craig Anderson made 31 saves.

Florida's other goals were scored by winger Jimmy Hayes and center Aleksander Barkov. Center Jason Spezza and winger Chris Neil scored for the Senators (14-17-6).

"A couple of mistakes and they capitalized," Anderson said. "We've got to learn from it."

Ottawa was coming off a lackluster performance in a 5-2 road loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday that was immediately followed by a closed-door meeting in which general manager Bryan Murray did most of the talking.

"It's clear we're feeling the pressure right now," said Spezza, the team captain. "We're feeling the heat. Teams know that we're a reeling team right now, we're fragile. If we continue to play fragile, teams are going to keep taking advantage of us."

For the second time in two nights, the Senators fell behind after giving up an early two-on-one break. Hayes was the triggerman, taking a pass from center Shawn Matthias and beating Anderson with a low shot to the stick side at 5:39 of the first.

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The Senators rebounded with two goals to take the lead before the intermission. Neil scored his fifth when a rebound off Clemmensen bounced in off his skate at 9:17, and Spezza ended a personal 11-game slump with a beauty in the last minute of the period with the Senators on a power play.

After taking a hard pass from defenseman Erik Karlsson in the neutral zone, Spezza pulled the puck around defenseman Dylan Olsen, then tucked a shot over Clemmensen's left shoulder, just under the cross bar.

The Panthers tied the game with the only goal of the second period when Barkov, positioned low in the slot, deflected a pass from Gilbert at the 17:11 mark.

"It feels like when you are down, you get kicked a little further down," Senators winger Bobby Ryan said.

And when you're up, you ride the wave.

"It was a good effort, a good road game for us," Clemmensen said. "This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now. We got down in the first, and we stuck to it. We believed in the game plan, we had confidence, and I think that's probably the biggest difference between our team now and the beginning of the season.

"When a goal goes in or things don't go our way ... before the game even, just believing we can win. I think that's been the key for us."

NOTES: Senators D Marc Methot returned from a four-game absence. For the first three, he was recovering from the flu, but coach Paul MacLean admitted Methot, generally regarded as Ottawa best defender, was a healthy scratch for the team's road loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday ... The Panthers' five-game winning streak is their longest since they won five in a row March 11-20, 2012 ... The Panthers' scratches were C Scott Gomez and D Mike Motteau. ... Florida G Scott Clemmensen made his fourth start in a row. He allowed a total of six goals in that span. ... Senators LW Cory Conacher was a healthy scratch for the second time this season. Joining him in the press box were D Patrick Wiercioch and D Eric Gryba. ... Senators D Jared Cowen blocked five shots. Ottawa topped Florida 17-10 in blocked shots.

[ 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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