Panthers win 1st division title, top Carolina 4-1
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Panthers clinched the first division title in franchise history, getting first-period goals from Marcel Goc and John Madden and 33 saves from Scott Clemmensen to beat the Carolina Panthers 4-1 and wrap up the Southeast crown on Saturday night.
Stephen Weiss -- who's headed to the playoffs for the first time after making his NHL debut with the Panthers 10 years ago -- also scored for Florida, which clinched the No. 3 seed and will play sixth-seeded New Jersey in the opening round.
Mikael Samuelsson added an empty-net goal with 1:24 left.
Joni Pitkanen scored and Brian Boucher made 23 saves for Carolina, which finished 12th in the Eastern Conference with 82 points.
The Panthers needed to get a point to wrap up the division after Washington beat the New York Rangers earlier. By the time the Capitals' game went final, Florida already had a 3-0 lead.
And unlike Tuesday against Winnipeg, this one stayed safe.
The Panthers came in on a season-high five-game losing streak, but jumped out quickly to take control. Goc scored at 4:02 of the first, and veteran John Madden -- brought in to give the Panthers plenty of playoff experience -- connected for his third of the season at 6:43 of the opening period.
Weiss's power-play goal at 10:06 of the second made it 3-0. Mikael Samuelsson fired a shot from the point that was blocked but Weiss put in the rebound on Boucher's stick side for his 20th goal of the season -- the fourth 20-goal season for Weiss and third in a row.
The Hurricanes made it 3-1 on Pitkanen's power-play goal at 8:26 of the third. The Hurricanes won the faceoff and Pitkanen's slap shot from the point got past Clemmensen.
For Florida, it's about winning now, with the first playoff games for the franchise since 2000 now looming.
For Carolina, Saturday was about a glimpse of the future.
Highly touted Carolina forward Jeremy Welsh made his NHL debut. Welsh was signed not long after his college season ended Thursday night when Union lost to Ferris State in the Frozen Four semifinals in Tampa. The Hurricanes presented him with a contract shortly after that game, and Welsh signed it in time to make the 4-hour drive across the state and join his new NHL club for its finale.
NOTES: The NHL plans to release the full playoff schedule Sunday. ... Carolina missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)