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Ducks Prove the Little Expansion Brothers : Hockey: The Panthers hold on for 3-2 victory in battle of newest NHL teams. Semenov injured.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The only team the Mighty Ducks can really compare themselves to visited Anaheim Arena on Tuesday.

And for the first two periods, there wasn’t much comparison.

The Ducks played sluggish hockey during most of their 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers before 16,474 in the first meeting of the NHL’s two newest teams.

“I don’t know what happened in the first period,” Coach Ron Wilson said. “I never felt we were in the game until the third.”

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Florida took a 3-0 lead and threatened to shut out the Ducks until Tim Sweeney broke through for a goal at 2:23 of the third. The final margin was cut to one only after Steven King scored with 67 seconds remaining. The Ducks had a two-man advantage after pulling goalie Guy Hebert for an extra attacker while already on a power play.

The Ducks and Panthers were born together when the franchises were given tentative approval a year ago Thursday. When management picked their teams in June, they picked from the same players.

So the Ducks--now 9-18-2 overall but 0-7 against the other recent expansion teams--lost a little pride. But they suffered a loss that could prove more critical than pride when leading scorer Anatoli Semenov left the game late in the second period because of a dislocated left elbow after he was caught in Stu Grimson’s check on Dave Lowry. Grimson is 6 feet 5 and 227 pounds.

Semenov was taken to Anaheim Memorial Hospital for precautionary X-rays, and there was no immediate prognosis.

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“He’s our best player, clearly,” Wilson said. “But it also means someone else is going to have to step up to the plate and look for the hit sign instead of the bunt.”

From the start, Florida seemed to place more importance on the game. The victory was the Panthers’ 10th overall--one more than the Ducks--and their fifth against recent expansion teams.

Florida’s victory was the Panthers’ fifth against recent expansion teams and 10th overall, one more than the Ducks.

At least it means the Panthers don’t have to look for another home: Owner H. Wayne Huizenga had told them not to come back if they didn’t beat the Ducks. "(Coach Roger Neilson) came in and hit the nail on the head when he told us about how much this means to our organization and to the people who put this team together,” Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck said. “Even though it’s only the 20-something game of the season, there was extra incentive. We came out and showed it.”

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Once Semenov was gone, the Ducks were missing two-thirds of their top line. Duck left wing Garry Valk suffered a concussion Sunday when he was cross-checked into the boards from behind by Tampa Bay’s Joe Reekie.

“Losing (Semenov) halfway through kills, us,” said right wing Terry Yake, who assisted on both Duck goals. “It definitely is going to be tough without Anatoli for however long he’s going to be out. Skill guys like Valk and Semenov work hard night in and night out and they can come up with a few nice plays when you need them. But I think we showed late in the game that we have plenty of guys who can do the job.”

Duck Notes

Steven King’s goal was his fourth in six games after he scored only one in the first 23 of the season. . . . Tim Sweeney returned after sitting out four games because of illness. . . . Florida was notified that Coach Roger Neilson is being fined $5,000 by the NHL for throwing items onto the ice in protest of replacement officials’ performance in a loss to Boston on Nov. 26. . . . Manon Rheaume and Erin Whitten, the two female goaltenders in minor league hockey, will play in the King-Duck celebrity exhibition to benefit fire victims Thursday at Anaheim Arena. Cammi Granato, sister of the Kings’ Tony Granato, also is scheduled to play, along with former Angel shortstop Dick Schofield and radio analysts Brian Engblom and Charlie Simmer.

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