It's fair to say that after falling down three goals in just six minutes, any hope of a comeback was as scattered as the Panthers players whose disarray cost them three goals on six shots. Though the sad display was deja vu from Game 1, the repeated errors in Game 3 seemed much more fatal. The New Jersey Devils knew they could hold off the Florida Panthers with 54 minutes left in the game. But the Panthers didn't think the Devils could. Time and time again, we've seen that no lead is safe in the game of hockey, and for the Devils it bit them when confidence was high.
Florida mounted a glorious comeback again, but time allowed for the Panthers to score the game winner and hold off the late flurry unlike in Game 1. Scott Clemmensen was the hero, powerplay success was the difference maker and the defensemen made it all happen. It was the best possible scenario after the worst possible scenario. On the flip side, I doubt that Peter DeBoer's club got cocky with a 3-0 lead and let the whole game slip away. Instead, the Panthers settled things down and pushed back hard enough to bust through the door and steal their second consecutive victory. This game exemplified the Panthers magic that secured themselves a postseason berth for the first time in a dozen years; it wasn't always pretty, it didn't set any records, but they pulled it off just in the nick of time. Now Florida holds the series, the cards and the confidence to find another two wins to move to the second round.
- With Wojtek Wolski scratched, who will be my worst star for this game? Wollie's quiet, invisible play would finally push Dineen to dress Jerred Smithson in his stead, all I can say is at least Dineen scratched Wolski for a good reason, unlike the last time. Makes one wonder if Shawn Matthias is next on the chopping block. Sign me up for the Free Mike Santorelli movement if that becomes the case.
- Remember how the Panthers got that early lead last game? The Devils would enjoy the same luck when a weak breakout from the Campbell-Garrison pairing would create a rebound chance for Zach Parise who'd skate the puck around Jose Theodore and put it into the back of the net for an early one goal lead.
- Of course the last time the Devils came out flying against the Panthers, they were able to grab a commanding three goal lead before Florida would wake up. Why do I mention this? Because Game 1 and Game 3 would be mirror images through 5 minutes. Stephen Gionta would score his first career playoff goal as he made a pretty redirect past Theodore for a 2-0 lead.
- I do these recaps real-time, and wouldn't you know by the time I finish talking about one goal the Devils would score another. This time it would be the Devils powerplay that would destroy the Panthers, Kris Versteeg would take a interference penalty and after a shorthanded two-on-one chance, the Devils top powerplay unit would undress the Panthers killers as the puck made its way to Patrik Elias camped out in front of the net like a good powerplay boy scout. 3-0 Devils, 6 minutes in. Didn't I watch a Canada-Latvia game like this once?
- Though it wasn't all Theodore's fault (in fact I wouldn't pin any of the goals on Theo) Dineen would make the right call and swap him for former Devil Scott Clemmensen. Midway through the first period he had already doubled his total playoff minutes. I'm not complaining, though.
- The interesting part of this series is that everyone has looked at Dineen and pointed out that he's a rookie coach. Well, the regular season is over, and Peter DeBoer has never been in the postseason before either. This is a battle of rookie playoff coaches, but only one looks like a rookie.
- Back when I played rec hockey as a wee one, the bantam team and midget team would practice at the same time, and when the coaches were feeling it they'd let us scrimmage for a bit. Of course the bantam team would always get destroyed, but we though it was fun just to square up against the big kids. This game would remind me of those days, except the playoffs mean something and the Panthers didn't look like they were having much fun. NHL players, of any team, know they absolutely have to play better. None of the Panthers enjoyed the talk about how they were hardly a playoff team, and playing like a bottom feeder doesn't help their cause.
- The Panthers would finally get on the board when Sean Bergenheim would catch a dumped puck and fire it over Martin Brodeur on the powerplay. If there has been a bright spot in the series, it has been the Panthers domination of the leagues' best penalty killers, especially on the opening faceoff of the man advantage.
- Of course I'm writing that last bit as the Panthers score on the powerplay again. This time the Devils were probably feeling hot under the collar as they'd absolutely worked the Panthers flirting with a few short-handed chances, but as the Cats finally broke into the Devils zone the point shot from Jason Garrison would beat Broduer as the penalty expired. Just Garrison doing what Garrison does best. He has the best playoff beard in the league, too.
- What an interesting way these games have gone, the two prior games featured a team racking up a 3-0 lead only to let it slip as the game closed, tonight's match had the team surrender those two goals in just twenty minutes. If I was the casual fan, after the PHI-PIT series I'd be watching the FLA-NJD series just for the sheer amount of momentum swings. Everyone loves a comeback, right?
- #StupidArgumentsAboutWhyHockeyDoesntBelongInTheSouth: "Hawhaw, can they even keep ice frozen in Miami?" Ask the ice boys in Newark about that one. 73 degrees in New Jersey as the puck dropped on the second period, and the ice looked something like a day old ice swan at a wedding reception. In other words, a puddle. For shame.
- Personally, today was kinda off for me. I went to classes and drove home, but then felt pretty tired and annoyed before the game started. Then Florida dropped a deuce going down 3-0, I got sad, but the comeback cheered me up a bit. Then Mike Weaver scored the game-tying goal. See, Weaver has been my favorite player since my childhood idol Peter Forsberg retired. I played the point man in my aforementioned hockey career, and Mike Weaver reminds me of myself at a younger age. I've been hyping up little old Mike all year thinking "this was the game he's gonna score" and yet he finally netted his first goal in 128 games when I least expected it. Mind you, I've only ever seen Weavs score twice. This is the best day ever. Oh yeah and Marty got pulled afterwards.
- What's a comeback if you can't pull ahead? On another powerplay, Brain Campbell would throw a shot through traffic in front of the net that beat Johan Hedberg clean for his team's fourth unanswered goal. Incredible, 3 for 3 on the powerplay? Sign me up.
- Marcel Goc has gotten his fair share of press this series, but believe me he's as stealthy as ever on the ice. Goc nearly tapped home a fifth goal as he snuck in and grabbed a caromed puck in front of the crease, but Hedberg's acrobatic save would save the day for the Devils.
- It's not exactly like the Panthers have a great penalty killing record through 2.5 games rolling with an 80% kill rate, but up against New Jersey's sad 40% rate the Cats' PK looks like a monster.
- It looked for a second that the Devils had the game tied the game on a point shot that trickled through Clemmensen, but the referee immediately waived it off claiming goaltender interference as Steve Bernier stumbled on to Clemmer as the shot flew towards him.
- You could feel the pressure mounting at Prudential Center as the road team faced their franchises' biggest comeback in 4 months while the home team faced their worst playoff meltdown since the 1980's.
- Anton Volchenkov has had some bad luck facing the Panthers since the 2011-12 regular season started, way back in November he was hit high by a Panthers forechecker and shaken up, then in Game 1 he was undressed on a goal then again tonight would be nailed by a Panthers forward. A-Train would hit this player into the boards, who would then purposely fall backwards on Volchenkov and elbow is head into the ice. He kills penalties, he scores, he takes bad, bad penalties. He's none other then Sean Bergenheim.
- Erik Gudbranson was an absolute beast throughout the game, unlike his teammates Guds really seems to put his best foot forward for the big games.
- If you've been watching, you'll notice that the last 15 minutes of each game in the series has been exactly the same, it's
athe trap. Both teams are pretty efficient at clogging up the zone as they hold a precarious one-goal lead, this is why each team carries a Jerred Smithson or a Steve Bernier. It's not exciting, it's tense.
- First playoff win in his seven year NHL career, against his former team. In relief. Scott Clemmensen is the king of the world.
1st: SCOTT CLEMMENSEN NUFF SAID
2nd: Mike Weaver made his first career playoff goal a good one. Just let me have my day and put him as #2.
3rd: Sean Bergenheim breathed life into the Panthers again after a staring down a 3-0 hole for the second time in three games, he also followed it up with an assist and two penalties. The Sean Bergenheim hat trick! Upshall also put up two assists.
Worst: I'd say Theodore for allowing 3 goals on 6 shots, but it was Martin Brodeur who blew a 3-0 lead. That's unacceptable no matter how many playoff wins you have under your belt.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer studied replays of the disallowed tying goal during Tuesday night's third game against the Florida Panthers.
He did not see what referee Tim Peel saw: Enough incidental contact by winger Steve Bernier with Scott Clemmensen to prevent the goalie from stopping as shot from Marek Zidlicky with 1:24 left in the second period.
"I watched it twice," DeBoer noted. "I thought it was marginal."
Bernier said he wasn't sure what happened when Panthers' defenseman Ed Jovanovski appeared to push him.
"Our job is to go in front of the net. I didn't notice that I pushed (Clemmensen) at all," he said. "I ended up on the ice. I don't know how I got there, but usually I don't fall by myself."
Did he affect Clemmensen?
"I really don't think so," Bernier said.
“We’re up 3-0 and they pull their goalie, it’s a momentum-changing tactic and it works for them,” DeBoer said. “The come back to 3-2, we go into the break after the first period and I thought it was an opportunity for us all to catch our break and you know get our game back in order and they score on the first shot of the second period (actually, the second).
“At that point, I have to do my job and try to get a momentum shift back in our direction, so I chose to do it that way.”
Brodeur said he was “a little bit surprised” to be pulled at that time.
“I think you don’t expect when you’re not losing the game yet to get pulled, but I don’t know exactly what (DeBoer) was thinking,” he said. “I’m sure there was a reason.”
DeBoer said he had not talked to Brodeur about the decision tonight, but would do so Wednesday. He said he normally does not discuss such things on the night of the game.
“It’s almost like golf, someone with a lower handicap and you spot them a few every hole,’’ said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. “It’s been that way every game in the series with teams coming out like gangbusters.
“Wish I had an excuse why we got overwhelmed as bad as we did to start that game. … We settled down, got it going … and we always find a way to push back.’’
Three of the Panthers’ goals came from defensemen, including the game-winner from Brian Campbell, who had four all season, at 6:34 of the second, and Weaver, who hadn’t scored since Jan. 25, 2011.
“It’s important to get it from all different areas in the playoffs. It’s not always going to come from [Stephen Weiss’] line,’’ Campbell said. “Weaver has a good shot. I’ve been yelling at him to shoot all year.’’
Florida trailed 3-0 just six-plus minutes into the game but scored twice in the final four minutes of the period to take momentum into the locker room. Florida also trailed New Jersey 3-0 in Friday's series opener but fell a goal short of evening it up.
“That was a big goal,'' coach Kevin Dineen said of Jason Garrison's goal with 7.4 seconds left in the opening period which made it a 3-2 game.
“We were getting overwhelmed, getting outplayed. All of a sudden, we're walking in and we're down one on the road. That happens all the time. It was very easy to settle them down after that.''
The Panthers quieted a roucous sellout crowd, one that came to see their Devils take command of a series many hockey experts predicted would end quick.
Florida, after all, won just two of its final 10 games. The Devils rolled into the playoffs with six straight wins. None of that matters now.
“This is a great group of guys and their character is impecable,'' said GM Dale Tallon, whose team hadn't won a road playoff game since Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference championship in Pittsburgh.
“They keep battling and never quit. That's been the story all year. I am so proud of these guys.''
Game Four in Newark: Puck drops 7pm on Thursday, the LBC Game Thread of Fear appears out of thin air just one hour beforehand. The Panthers lead the series 2-1(!!!!).