After getting severely outshot in the first period of game one of their series, and falling behind 3-0 before the first period was over, the Florida Panthers knew that game two had to be significantly different. And it was. The Panthers who ended up playing a strong second and third period in the first game fell short as the Devils did what they’ve been known to do whenever they have a lead. Play the trap. The middle of the ice was clogged, the Devils gave Florida no room to work with, and Florida never fully adjusted.
Kevin Dineen and the Panthers needed a way to counter the Devils in game two, and they did. I had described a few things that I thought that Florida needed to do in my pregame post, and it appeared that those keys to the game and more actually took place. The differences and why they won were as follows:
* The Panthers had to find a way to penetrate the Devils defence and get pucks deep, forcing the Devils to turn their backs and play the puck in their end. This element was missing in game one, as Florida insisted on trying to carry the puck past the blueline. Dump and chase isn’t pretty, but sometimes it’s what you need to do to get the job done.
* Besides the above, Florida needed to win the battles in the corners and along the boards. They did. There was a sequence in the second period in Florida’s end where Erik Gudbranson had the puck and a Devils player pinned along the boards for what seemed to be a good 30 seconds. The Panthers ended up getting the puck out of their zone, and chewed up some valuable time on the clock.
* Limit the Devils shots. In the first period New Jersey had only four shots on goal as compared to 26 on Friday. Big reason for this was that the defence had tightened up significantly, and kept the Devils to the outside along the boards, rather than give them space in the middle. Also there were no shooting lanes for New Jersey to shoot through.
* Kept attacking. Probably the biggest reason for the victory is the energy that Florida started the game with. Obviously getting a quick power play opportunity helped, but the Panthers kept the pressure on.
* Didn’t Panic. To a man, each player and even coach Kevin Dineen all commented after yesterday’s game “we didn’t panic”. They had confidence, maintainted their composure, and didn’t wilt under the pressure that New Jersey came at them with late in the game. With two Jersey goals at the beginning of the third period, that came less than 90 seconds, the wheels could have fallen off. Not with this Panthers team.
* Finally, Jose Theodore was solid, and sometimes he was spectacular. He made a few glorious saves, and a couple different times made two or even three in a row. Give him the credit he deserves. This game easily could have gone to the Devils if not for Theo.
Florida will now go to New Jersey and will need to play the same type of game that they played on Sunday. For a full 60 minutes. The Devils felt that they had their chance late in the game, and will be looking to feed off their third period frenzy. While this isn’t the marquee series of the bunch, there certainly aren’t many dull moments.