NEWARK, N.J. - After spending most of his career as a backup, Scott Clemmensen is relishing a chance to be the New Jersey Devils' starting goalie.
Clemmensen stopped 23 shots and Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta each had a goal and an assist in the Devils' 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
The night belonged to the 31-year-old Clemmensen, who came within 11:18 of his first shutout in more than four years. He has started four of the last five games in seemingly replacing Kevin Weekes as the Devils' No. 1 in the absence of the injured Martin Brodeur.
"I have played games in this league before, obviously," Clemmensen said after his second straight win. "But they have been spread out and kind of sporadic. When you play only once in a while, you try to do everything so perfectly. You squeeze the stick a little. I know I have an opportunity and I want to go for it."
Clemmensen, appearing in his 33rd career game, was at his best in the second period in the minutes after Elias broke a scoreless tie. The goalie stopped David Booth, Nathan Horton and Michael Frolik on excellent scoring chances, although it would be Frolik who ended his shutout bid with his first NHL goal.
"I feel comfortable out there," Clemmensen said. "The more I play, the more confident you are. You anticipate better. You read plays better, the instinct, everything. Obviously, everything is together a little more when you are playing more."
Frolik, the 10th pick overall in the 2006 draft, spoiled Clemmensen's bid for a third career shutout, scoring on a power play.
"I saw him come up to the slot and just as he was getting ready to shoot it, he kind of past in front of one of my guys and I didn't see him shoot it," Clemmensen said. "It's tough to stop what you can't see."
While thrilled with his goal, Frolik was disappointed it didn't come in a win.
"The last five games we won three," Frolik said. "We played very good in the second and third period, but the first one wasn't good and coach was upset."
Frolik was set up by defenceman Jay Bouwmeester on his goal.
"I just closed by eyes and shot it," Frolik said.
"Shutouts are a lucky thing that kind of just happen," Clemmensen said. "You don't try to go out and get it. I'm more happy we got the win."
Elias and Gionta combined to break a scoreless tie at 6:47 of the second period on what turned out to be the Devils' only shot on Tomas Vokoun in the stanza.
Dainius Zubrus, who had two assists, started the play by collecting the puck along the sideboards and sending it into the right corner to Gionta. The little wing found Elias alone in front and he backhanded the puck into an empty net after deking Vokoun out of position.
"One of the D lost his stick on a collision there and then they got kind of mixed up," Gionta said. "Patty was open in the slot."
The Panthers outshot New Jersey 10-1 in the period, but Clemmensen was solid.
"They had a lot of good chances," Gionta said. "He (Clemmensen) showed a lot of poise and a lot of confidence just kicking them away and weathering the storm."
The Devils put the game away with two goals in a 62-second span in the third period.
Defenceman Paul Martin ignited the spurt at 5:49 after taking a pass from David Clarkson and ripping a shot past Vokoun.
A little more than a minute later, Gionta and Elias worked a great give-and-go pass for a shot into an empty net. Zubrus started the play, again winning the puck along the boards.
Notes: Panthers D Jassen Cullimore, re-signed about three weeks ago, had to be helped off the ice in the second period after hurting his right knee. He will be evaluated on Friday. ... The Panthers are 3-7-1 in their last 11, which is the same as their road record. ... New Jersey sent forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to Lowell of the AHL earlier in the day. ... Clemmensen's last shutout was on March 26, 2004, against Atlanta.