After dropping Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, the Florida Panthers knew that they needed a monster effort, and more importantly, a win if they were to have any chance of staying in the series. Losing the first two games of a series on home ice is almost always a fatal blow and that was the mountain the Panthers had to climb Sunday at the Bank Atlantic Center. And climb it they did. Florida turned the tables on the Devils by jumping out to a 3-0 lead before hanging on for a 4-2 win in front of 19,248.
And it didn’t take long for that big crowd to have something to cheer about. Just 23 seconds in, Stephen Weiss collected a rebound of a Mikael Samuelsson point shot on the power play and beat Martin Brodeur for his first playoff goal/point and give the Cats a 1-0 lead. For Weiss, it must’ve felt like the weight of the world was off his shoulders as he had a forgettable performance in Friday’s game after waiting 8 years to play in the postseason.
In the waning seconds of the first period, the Devils were called for two penalties on the same shift that gave the Cats a full two minutes on 5-on-3 time. After failing to convert in the final 17 seconds of the first, it would take 1:12 for Weiss to change that in the second with another put-back goal. Brodeur directed the rebound of Jason Garrison’s slap shot right on Weiss‘ blade whose wrister made it 2-0. One of the biggest factors going into this series was would the Panthers be able to have success against New Jersey’s record setting penalty kill. The answer after two games is a resounding yes, as 3 of the Panthers 6 goals in the series have come on the power play while converting at a 3 for 7 clip.
The Cats would strike again before the second intermission as Marcel Goc would fire an innocent looking but sharp-angle shot that just beat Brodeur to put Florida up 3-0.
But, if you’ve followed the Panthers at all this season, you know this team just can’t resist making things interesting. It took less than a minute for the Devils to have the Florida faithful squirming in their seats. Travis Zajac grabbed a Florida turnover at their blue line and beat Jose Theodore five-hole just 48 seconds into the third period. And if that wasn’t enough to get the bile churning for those rooting for the red sweaters, Ilya Kovalchuk’s redirection of an Adam Henrique pass past Theodore certainly did. Within 2:02 of the period, New Jersey closed the gap to 3-2 with a looooong way left to go. The remainder of the period was one Theodore save after the other as the Panthers fought off a hard charging Devils’ squad. After not seeing much action of the first two periods, Theodore showed his worth as a more than capable Devils offense had him under pressure over the final 20 minutes. Tomas Fleischmann ended all doubt as he collected the empty-net goal at 19:59, triggering a rain of rats not seen since the last Florida playoff game win 15 years ago.
With the series now tied at 1, the scene shifts to Newark for games 3 (Tuesday) and 4 (Thursday). During the regular season series, the Panthers went 1-1 and I’m sure if you’re Kevin Dineen, you’d be thrilled to have that happen over the next two games and regain home-ice advantage. If that’s going to happen, they’re going to need an effort much like tonight’s first two periods. They were able to get pucks deep in the Devils end and a strong forecheck kept New Jersey back on their heels in the first two frames. And despite two glaring mistakes, the effort defensively held the Devils to 25 shots in the games, one less than they collected in the first period on Friday.
And while the win is nice, the Panthers still need to get more production while at even strength, especially from the top line. The Goc line has been the only line to score while 5-on-5 and while the power play success is nice, you can’t rely on that going forward if you want to win the series.
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