There’s just something about a 3-0 lead when the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils get together this season that brings out the dramatic flair in both squads. In the first two games of the series, the teams alternated having that lead, only to hold off the other’s furious comebacks. And back in November, the Panthers overcame a first period 3-0 deficit to claim a 4-3 regulation win. Well, you can add Tuesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the list as the Cats once again overcame a very early 3-0 shortfall to once again with 4-3.
If you were busy searching for the game on your local cable/satellite provider (game was shown locally on Sun Sports, not the customary Fox Sports Florida), you may have turned the game on to find Florida already down a goal. Zach Parise’s put back of a Travis Zajac shot beat Jose Theodore just 33 seconds into the game putting the Panthers in the early hole they desperately did not want to be in. The hole would get deeper three minutes later as Stephen Gionta would deflect a point shot from Marek Zidlicky past Theodore for a 2-0 lead. It would take another three minutes for the Devils to compile the dreaded 3-0 lead as Panther killer Patrick Elias collected a loose puck to the right of the Florida net and patiently flicked into an open cage for a 3-0 lead.
Even though you can strongly make the the case that none of the goals scored were Theodore’s fault, Kevin Dineen made the change and brought in former Devil Scott Clemmensen to try and stop the bleeding. But, it was a New Jersey mistake that would give the Panthers the breath of life they needed. The normally level-headed Elias took a foolish unsportsmanlike penalty for a shove on Erik Gudbranson following an icing call and gave the Panthers a power play opportunity that Sean Bergenheim converted at 16:11 of the first to give Florida life.
It would be the power play that would get the second goal as Jason Garrison converted a 4-on-3 situation with a huge blast from the blue line that beat Martin Brodeur with 8 seconds left in the first.
With all of the momentum on their side to start the second, the Panthers would tie it up just 2:18 in the second as Mike Weaver (Mike Weaver?! Mike Weaver) would throw a shot from the point on net that found its way through traffic past Brodeur to level the game with just under 40 minutes to play, and send Brodeur to the bench in favor Johann Hedberg. After a Petr Sykora high-sticking penalty, the Panthers struck for the third time on the power play as Brian Campbell walked in from the blue line to the right face off circle before firing a seeing-eye shot past Hedberg to put the Panthers into the lead at 6:34 of the second.
From there, the Panthers did their best vintage New Jersey Devils impression and did their best to clog to the neutral zone to keep everything in front of them with Clemmensen playing the part of Brodeur. All in all, Clemmensen stopped all 19 shots he faced, including a Elias shot from just to his left where he has scored twice in this series. With the win, the Panthers take a 2-1 series lead and regain home-ice advantage. And for all the talk about New Jersey being the superior team, the Cats have a 4-2-1 record against them in all combined games this season.
Whether or not the Panthers can use this as momentum for the rest of the series remains to be seen as you expect the Devils to come out like a house of fire on Thursday. But, you can certainly argue the fact that the Panthers have been the better team this series. The Devils have shown flashes of dominance but, outside of a period here or a few minutes of a period there, it’s been the Panthers who have more to show for it. They’ve dominated the record setting Devil PK (6-for-10 on the power play) and they’ve also managed to avoid taking stupid penalties (for the most part) and have done a good job killing them off for the most part. It will need to continue if the Panthers are to win this series.
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