After a 12 year post season drought, the Florida Panthers probably envisioned a better start in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Bank Atlantic Center. But for the opening 20 minutes, the Panthers playoff dream turned into a nightmare for themselves and the 19,000+ that had waited since the Clinton administration to be a part of hockey’s second season.
After an early push from Florida, the Devils, who came into the game one of the NHL’s hottest teams, began to take over and put shot after shot on Jose Theodore’s cage. The barrage of shots paid off six minutes in as Patrik Elias took a a cross ice feed from Dainius Zubrus at the right face off circle then put on a clinic of moves before firing his sharp angle shot past Theodore for a 1-0 lead.
Things didn’t get much better after the goal as four minutes later, they were saddled with the task of killing off a 4 minute double minor as Shawn Matthias was the recipient of a terrible high-sticking call. Replay shows that it was Andy Greene’s own stick that struck his face after Matthias delivered the check but, this is NHL playoff officiating we’re talking about here. After killing off the first minor, the Devils finally cashed in on the second one with eight second remaining as David Clarkson feathered a pass to Zubrus, past Ed Jovanovski , who then beat Theodore for a 2-0 Jersey advantage. It took only 45 seconds for things to get worse as Ex-Panther Ryan Carter would steal the puck at the center line and race in alone on Theodore and beat him glove side for a 3-0 lead.
The good news for the Panthers as they headed into intermission is that they probably couldn’t have been as outplayed as they were in that first period. They were outshot 26-9 in the period and were it not for the play of Theodore, it might have been a 6-0 deficit for the home side.
As they’ve done for much of the season, the Panthers came out in the second and showed some of the push back they’ve needed on many occasions. Sean Bergenheim, who starred in the post season last year for the Tampa Bay Lightning, got the Panthers on the board at 7:44 as he drove the net and beat Martin Brodeur, giving the energetic crowd at the Bank Atlantic Center something to cheer about. Eight minutes later, it was Kris Versteeg‘s chance to fire up the crowd and he took a pass from Mikael Samuelsson and walked the red line before stuffing the puck past Brodeur to cut the lead to 3-2, capitalizing on a power play chance against the league’s number one penalty killing team.
In the third, New Jersey went into ‘victory mode’ as the expertly defended their lead, limiting the Panthers (and itself) to only six shots in the period. Despite the expected late flurry with the empty net, the Cats were unable to equalize and the Devils take a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.
Hard to find a silver lining for a loss in the playoffs but with everyone expecting the Panthers to roll over after a disastrous first period, you at least had to admire the fire they played with over the game’s final 40. Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but the Panthers can at least take some momentum into Sunday’s Game 2. If they’re going to take that game, they’re going to need a better performance from the Flashmob line in 5-on-5 situations. The line collected more penalty minutes (6) then they had shots on goal (4) and after a long wait, Stephen Weiss‘ first playoff game was largely forgettable as he did not record a shot on goal.
With Jersey wrestling away home-ice advantage, Sunday’s game becomes paramount if the Panthers want to stay in this series. The last thing the Panthers want is to head to Newark staring down a 0-2 deficit with that Devils team in the driver’s seat.
And as an aside, for those doubting whether or not South Floridians get into hockey, the Panthers boasted over 19,000 people on a night where the Miami Heat and Miami Marlins were playing at the same time.
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Topics: Bank Atlantic Center, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson, Ed Jovanovski, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Kris Versteeg, Martin Brodeur, Mikael Samuelsson, New Jersey Devils, Nhl Officials, Nhl Officials Blow, Patrik Elias, Ryan Carter, Sean Bergenheim, Shawn Matthias, Stanley Cup Playoffs