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
"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
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