After a week of blown leads and shutout losses, the Panthers hope they rediscovered their mojo in the strangest of places Thursday night.
For the first time since the season opener on Jan. 19, the Panthers pulled out all the offensive stops — and made the big ones in net as well — to snap a five-game winless streak with a 5-2 victory over the host Flyers.
The Panthers won twice at Wells Fargo Center in the same year for the first time since 2006-07 after winning here in a shootout Feb. 7. Thursday’s win was fueled by a power-play goal, a penalty-shot goal and 32 saves from surprise starter Scott Clemmensen.
Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau’s campaign for the league’s top rookie award continues to gain traction as he ended with two goals and two assists for his first four-point game.
Huberdeau, 19, leads the Panthers in goals (eight) and points (13).
“It was a good snapshot of why Dale [Tallon] and our management staff speak so highly of him,’’ coach Kevin Dineen said. “He’s heading in the right direction; he’s playing hard, playing well and playing the right way.”
Clemmensen’s play was perhaps the bright spot of the night — fitting since he was wearing a new feline-themed mask that looked like it was painted with a fluorescent yellow highlight marker.
Even though Huberdeau had the memorable SportsCenter-worthy goal, it was Clemmensen’s performance that was most satisfying for the Panthers as both he and the team so desperately needed it.
Clemmensen lost his previous three starts this season and had given up 17 goals in five appearances which included relief of starter Jose Theodore. Last Tuesday, Clemmensen had a 5-3 lead on the Capitals in the third period that ended up a 6-5 overtime loss.
With rookie Jacob Markstrom recalled from the minors Wednesday, the heat was on Clemmensen to make this start count whether he would admit it or not.
“If I’m in a situation where I’m feeling some pressure, it’s how you respond,” Dineen said. “You look for opportunity and to take care of things. It hasn’t gone great this year but I like the push-back tonight.”
Clemmensen made a couple early saves to allow his team to build a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the first period. Clemmensen had to make a few other big saves, but the Flyers didn’t have much in the tank after Wednesday’s 6-5 win in Pittsburgh.
“Hopefully this is harbinger of things to come for me moving forward,’’ said Clemmensen, who gave up the first goal with 6:11 left and Florida up 4-0. “This was just a big win for everyone.’’
Clemmensen made 13 saves in an opening period in which the Panthers got goals from Peter Mueller and Tomas Kopecky within a span of 29 seconds to make it 2-0.
Midway through the first, Huberdeau got loose on a breakaway and was pulled on by Kimmo Timonen as he approached goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
In Florida’s previous trip here, Huberdeau scored on his first shootout attempt against Bryzgalov with a slick move. Thursday, Huberdeau actually improved on that by completely faking out Bryzgalov on his first NHL career penalty-shot attempt for a 3-0 lead.
“I love being in shootouts and taking the puck. I’m glad to score for the team,’’ said Huberdeau, once again wearing the cheeky red velvet cavalier hat which players award to the game’s hero after victories.
“For sure, my confidence is high after a game like this. But we’re going right back at it [Friday] in Pittsburgh.’’
Said Clemmensen: “I’m glad he’s on my team. I go against him in practice, and he’s very tough when we do shootouts. Now I expect to see those dazzling moves from that guy. Needless to say, he has a bright future.”