April 17, 1997. That's the last time the Panthers won a playoff game. Fifteen years later, the Panthers have ended that terrible streak with a huge 4-2 home victory over the New Jersey Devils in game two. The Panthers went up early with a solid 3-0 lead in the second thanks to Stephen Weiss potting two goals on the man advantage and Marcel Goc adding an insurance tally. However, the Devils woke up in the third, scoring two quick goals to bring the game to within one. Panther netminder Jose Theodore managed to hold the Devils back through the rest of the third despite several defensive breakdowns by the Panthers. Tomas Fleischmann would pop in an empty netter with one second to go to give Florida the win and tie the series at one apiece.
As an aside from the game itself, it was fantastic to see the BankAtlantic Center full of red-clad Panthers fans making the home ice advantage truly matter for the Cats. The place was LOUD, fans were on the edges of their seats, and when the final buzzer sounded a hail of rats showered down upon the ice as the players celebrated. It was reminiscent of Miami Arena during the oft-fabled Cup run of '96, and for long-time Panthers fans and bandwagoners alike, it was a moment everyone will remember for awhile. With the Panthers winning this game and evening the series, it guarantees Panther fans a chance to see at least one more home game this postseason. If the Panthers have their way, there will be plenty more than one.
- Stephen Weiss (2) PP 1:12, assisted by Marcel Goc and Jason Garrison
- Marcel Goc (1) 14:39, assisted by Brian Campbell and Sean Bergenheim3rd
- The Panthers came out ready this time, and drew a penalty on the first shift. That resulted in Stephen Weiss' first career playoff goal on the powerplay only 0:23 into the period. The BankAtlantic crowd went absolutely nuts on the penalty call, and twice as nuts when Weiss punched the Samuelsson rebound. Great to see Weiss get his first playoff goal in only his second game. Even better to see him get his second.
- There's a hell of a battle brewing between David Clarkson and Ed Jovanovski. Clarkson got called for charging Erik Gudbranson in the first period as well, so we might want to add Gudbranson to that battle. It's been enjoyable to watch these warriors battle it out, and even more rewarding to see the Panthers keep their cool and not take any dumb penalties in the process. Clarkson is the type of player that is a dual threat: he's physical and can contribute offensively, as he showed with an unexpected 30-goal season.
- Speaking of Gudbranson, he looked every bit the rookie in this contest. It's not that he played poorly, but he looked a step or two behind the furious pace of a Stanley Cup playoff game. He looked nervous when the puck was on his stick, and the Devils noticed it and pressured him constantly and threw a lot of hits his way to get him off his game. Hopefully Gudbranson will adapt and calm down as the series goes on; the Panthers will certainly need him at his best.
- Samuelsson left the game in the second period with what looked like a possible upper body injury, but he would return later in the period and provide the screen for a huge goal by Goc to put the Panthers up 3-0. He's been an offensive catalyst through two games for Florida and has been a huge boon as a point man on the powerplay. The Panthers can't afford to lose the services of Samuelsson during this postseason run.
- Tomas Kopecky looked really good in this game both at even strength and especially shorthanded. Both he and John Madden were great on the PK and killed a lot of time off and even generated some shorthanded chances. He's stepping up his game and that's good to see, because as one of the guys with a big "A" on the sweater, he's gotta lead by example.
- Campbell played a simply awesome game defensively for Florida. His gap control was perfect, he stepped up to make plays at the blueline, both with the puck and without it, and he again gave Florida a speedy element while transitioning into the Devils zone. The New Jersey forward corps didn't really seem to have an answer to him all night, and he was definitely one of the MVPs for the Panthers in this tilt.
- Guys that have to be better for the Panthers? Wojtek Wolski, Shawn Matthias, Dmitry Kulikov. Wolski's compete level doesn't seem to be as high as it needs to be; he's losing a lot of battles in the corner and isn't effective on the forecheck most of the time. Matthias needs to be throwing the body and using his size to maintain puck control in the offensive zone. Kulikov has to be sharper with outlet passes and has to start cutting down on bad pinches, as he was caught in both games making some ill-advised decisions along the blueline.
1st: Stephen Weiss. The unofficial captain of the Cats scores twice on the powerplay and plays a fantastic two-way game all night.
2nd: Marcel Goc. Won faceoffs, was responsible defensively, scored the game winner and assisted on another goal. What more can you ask for?
3rd: Mikael Samuelsson. He was once again involved in two of the Panthers goals and was a threat every time he was on the ice.
Worst: Wojtek Wolski and Shawn Matthias. Both were almost invisible again.
Having fallen behind, 3-0, in Game 1 of the series, the Panthers were intent on changing the way they started last night.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted to in the last game,” former Devils center John Madden said. “Coming back from three goals isn’t highly likely for us to do, so we (had) to get off to a better start.”
What did the Panthers need to change?
“Most everything,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “It certainly looked like we were overwhelmed (in the first period of the series). The Devils came out flying and our response wasn’t very good. Lesson learned.”
The Panthers were swept in four by the Devils in 2000 – their second season removed from the Miami Arena. Florida's last postseason victory came just 5,478 days before (or almost 15 years) when it beat the Rangers 3-0 on March 17, 1997, in Game 1 of that opening-round series. New York won the next four.
How long ago was that? Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski was in his second season with the team. Now, his playoff beard looks frosted in snow. The Panthers left Miami in 1998.
“It feels good to win no matter how long it has been for the organization,'' Jovanovski, 35, said. “It's a step in the right direction, where we want to be. We'll enjoy this one as a group for now, then it's on to Game 3.''OFP/Richards
“It’s like a heart attack every game,’’ joked Panthers owner Cliff Viner.
However, beseiged goalie Jose Theodore made a great save on a point-blank shot from captain Zach Parise with 2:23 left.
“The momentum is going to shift back and forth,’’ said Theodore, who had 23 saves to end an eight-game losing streak dating back to March 17. “We didn’t panic when they scored two quick goals. That’s playoff hockey right there. You got to stick with it.’’
Weiss couldn’t control the faceoff with 7.6 seconds left but was saved by a huge block by Tomas Fleischmann off a shot from Kovalchuk that led to Fleischmann’s empty-net goal at 19:59 to set off a wild flurry of flying rats.
It also snapped Theodore’s six-game playoff losing streak with his first postseason win since April 19, 2008 against Minnesota while he was with Colorado.
“I didn’t win that faceoff,’’ Weiss said. “I think my heart rate is still about 600 right now. It went back to Kovalchuk, a big block by Flash, that’s what we needed, a buddy to bail me out.’’
And the Panthers finally ended a nine-game postseason losing streak with their first playoff victory ever in BankAtlantic Center. It was also their first against Brodeur, who had been 5-0 against them in the postseason.Sun Sentinel/Fialkov
“I think we would have taken a split coming down here,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “There’s no easy match-ups in the NHL playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected that anyone was going to beat anybody in four. We got a split. Now, have to take care of business at home.”
The series shifts to Prudential Center how for Game 3 on Tuesday night after the Panthers registered their first postseason win since April 17, 1997 against the Rangers, breaking a nine-game losing streak that covered three series.
“I think we gave them a good push in the third, but it just wasn’t enough,” Ilya Kovalchuk said. “I think we all liked the way we played in the third period, so we just have to keep playing the same way.”
The Panthers will leave the cozy confines of the BankAtlantic Center and receive a warm welcome from the Devils faithful at the Prudential Center. Game three is set for Tuesday 7 p.m. LBC Game Thread goes live one hour earlier.