In their own special way the Florida Panthers beat the New Jersey Devils in thrilling fashion by a score of 4-2. It was a night where a few things happened for the first time, as well as the first time in a long time. Stephen Weiss scored his first NHL playoff goal of his 10 year career 23 seconds into the first period. It was also a power play goal, another first for Weiss. Weiss added another power play goal in the second period for his second of the night as the Panthers had a two man advantage, and it seemed that they were in control. Weiss spoke after the game:
“Feels good,” Weiss said. “Obviously, these fans have been waiting a long time for this kind of hockey and this is a big win for us. Not the start we wanted in the third period, but this is a big win.”
Marcel Goc added a goal and an assist for a two point night himself, and the Panthers had a 3-0 lead with about 25 minutes to go in the game. The New Jersey Devils however weren’t going to just lay down, and they applied some significant pressure. In the third period the Devils put everyone on the edge of their seat with two quick goals, one by Travis Zajac, and the second by Ilya Kovalchuk, to bring the Devils within one.
At that point you could feel the tension in the building, as most people wondered would the Panthers hang on, or would they step on the gas and push back. The Devils at one point seemed to be as though they were on a power play as they had the Panthers hemmed in their zone, unable to get out. If not for Jose Theodore who had another strong performance, this game could have gone another way.
Theodore talked about that pressure and the Devils after the game, and he repeated a few times that, “we didn’t panic”. That was the key. Theodore who made 23 saves on the night, including a couple in the “point blank range” helped the Panthers win their first playoff game 1997. That’s 5,478 days!
Kevin Dineen also talked during his post game conference that the team showed a lot of maturity, resiliency and was extremely pleased at how they responded. He also praised the play of Mikael Samuelsson who Dineen said is and has been a true professional, and has given us exactly what we needed when we needed it. Samuelsson assisted on the first goal by Weiss, and was cool, and calm throughout.
Tomas Fleischmann picked up the empty netter after blocking a shot, and raced down the ice to finish off the game, making it 4-2. The fans littered the ice with rats as you can see from the photo that I took from up above in the press box. many of the other writers were doing the same thing as it’s been 15 years since Florida won a post season game.
With tonight’s victory, the series is now tied at one, and the teams will play in Jersey on Tuesday and Thursday and no matter what, Florida gets a game five here at the Bank Atlantic Center on Saturday April 21st.
Check back on Monday as Dave will have a more complete recap. In the meantime, enjoy the win. The farther we go, the better they get.
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