Photo Credit: Jim O

The Day After: Vintage Brodeur Downs Panthers To Even Series

Following Tuesday’s game 3 win over the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers fans began to dream of a long-shot Jersey sweep and clinching the series in Saturday’s game 5 in Sunrise. A six and a half minute stretch of the third period, that saw a deficit of 1-0 grow to 4-0, brought everyone back down to reality as the Devils used the dominant period to cruise to victory behind the record-setting performance of future Hall-of-Fame netminder Martin Brodeur. Brodeur, who was yanked from Tuesday’s loss, rebounded to become the NHL’s all time leader in postseason shutouts with 24.

Scott Clemmensen, who was named starter for this game by coach Kevin Dineen following his performance Tuesday in relief of Jose Theodore, was able to equal his former teammate for about 26 minutes to start the game as the teams played a goal free first period for the first time in the series. The Devils finally broke through at 6:08 of the second as Zach Parise was able to get the final deflection on a Marek Zidlicky point shot on the power play (following a Keaton Ellerby penalty, who got the start after Jason Garrison was a late scratch) to make it 1-0.

Things began to unravel early in the third when former Panther Steve Bernier’s shot from the left face off circle beat Clemmensen high for a 2-0 lead. Travis Zajac’s uncontested blast from the deep slot a minute in a half later made it 3-0. But there would be no semblance of a comeback this time as a flick of Ilya Kovalchuk’s wrist from the left face off circle on the power play at 8:32 gave us our final count 4-0.

Part of Florida’s downfall was the power play crashing back to earth as they went 0-for-6 with the man advantage, thanks in large part for Brodeur. There’s the old adage that your goaltender is your best penalty killer and that proved true in this game as the rebounds that had been there from the netminder disappeared. But, despite the overall success of the power play in the series, for the Panthers, the fact remains: they MUST get better 5-on-5, especially the Flashmob line. The early power play success is nice but you can’t rely strictly on it to get you through a playoff series. So far, the Panthers have three goals at even strength, excluding the empty netter at the end of game 2.

While Thursday’s result is disappointing, it’s certainly not unexpected. You figured that a player like Brodeur was going to come out with a chip on his shoulder and give his answer to anyone who thought Pete DeBoer should have gone with Johan Hedberg. The Panthers certainly helped him out as many of their 26 shots coming from the outside with little traffic in front of the net. But, despite the loss, the Panthers got what they realistically wanted out of the two games in Newark, a road win to regain home ice advantage on what his now a best of three series that begins Saturday night at the Bank Atlantic Center.

But now, Dineen two dilemmas to face. First, and most obviously, is who does he go with in net in game 5? My guess is Theodore, who has played well despite getting pulled Tuesday. Also, injuries on the blue line have now become a factor as Garrison is listed day to day with a lower body injury. His replacement, Ellerby was injured Thursday and is now listed as day to day, as well. He may have to look to the San Antonio Rampage, who are in the AHL playoffs, for a call up for Saturday in case neither can go.

Series is now tied 2-2. See you Saturday.

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Tags: Florida Panthers Ilya Kovalchuk Johan Hedberg Jose Theodore Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils Scott Clemmensen Stanley Cup Playoffs Steve Bernier Travis Zajac Zach Parise

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