Cats Clinch Southeast

For the first time in their history, the Florida Panthers are Southeast Division Champions. The feat was achieved after their 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in front of a sold out BankAtlantic Center in game 82 of the season.

The game itself was pedestrian at best, with the Hurricanes seemingly looking forward to their summer vacations. Brian Boucher, Carolina’s backup goaltender, started in net. Marcel Goc got the scoring going just 4:02 into the opening frame. After winning the draw, he camped out in front of the net for his 11th goal of the season. Florida never looked back.

Just over two minutes later, John Madden added a tally, with Tomas Kopecky setting him up in front of the net. It was Madden’s third of the year, putting Florida ahead 2-0.

Stephen Weiss scored his 20th of the year. After Mikael Samuelsson took a hard wrister from the point, Weiss found the puck on the doorstep and shot it past the pads of Boucher to give Florida a 3-0 advantage.

The two teams exchanged tallies in the third, with Joni Pitkanen scoring his fifth of the year to put Carolina down 3-1 8:26 into the period. Samuelsson iced the game, and the division, with an empty netter, his 15th, giving the game it’s final score of 4-1.

Florida has home ice advantage in the first round, and will play its second consecutive playoff series against the New Jersey Devils next week. Media reports have hinted that the series will begin Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center, but the official schedule will be released tomorrow at 1:00 PM Eastern on NHL Network.

“I’m super excited to get my first series, and our first series, underway,” Weiss said.

“It’s [the playoffs] a great thing to happen to this organization, Kopecky said. “That’s why we came here. Obviously we wanted to bring that winning attitude here.”

The Panthers were swept by the Devils in 2000, their last trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHOSE IN NET?

The hot topic this week will be; Who will get the nod in net for the Panthers Thursday? Jose Theodore has been the rock of the team, compiling a 22-16-11 record with a 2.46 GAA. That’s hardly Vezina numbers, but respectable for the 34-year-old. Scott Clemmensen, who made 34 saves and was the Panthers second star Saturday, has a perfect 4-0 career record against his old team. Time will tell who Kevin Dineen goes with in net, but it should be an interesting story to watch develop over the course of the week.

INSIDE HOCKEY WILL HAVE RECAPS ON EVERY FLORIDA PANTHERS PLAYOFF GAME DURING THE 2012 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

NOTE: The cover photo was taken by Panthers’ in-arena emcee Bill Murphy after the game Saturday night. The Panthers Stanley Cup Playoffs logo is illuminated on the side of the BankAtlantic Center after the Panthers’ 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

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