This was to be the game that would decide the series, and since the New Jersey Devils were supposed to walk all over the Florida Panthers in the East Quarterfinals, that meant this game was supposed to be all Devils. But it wasn't, the Panthers have been too resilient all season long to let the 4-0 loss in Game Four deflate them. Again it was special teams that decided the game, even if they weren't capitalized on; Florida's one powerplay goal would be the eventual game winner, but the Panthers drew enough penalties to take over much of the first and second periods while the Devils just spun their tires.
Resiliency has been Jose Theodore's middle name for much of his career, and tonight his shutout returned the momentum to his team after it seemed the Devils had it all to themselves. Florida doesn't always have the offense to compete with their opponents, but with the help of solid defense and goaltending they slip by in the important games. Tonight was the most important game of the Panthers season, and there was hardly a flaw to be found.
-13:17 Scottie Upshall(1) assists to Versteeg and Shawn Matthias
-19:26 Tomas Kopecky(1) SHG ENG unassisted
- Jose Theodore would be back in net for the puckdrop, I suppose the good thing about having Scott Clemmensen in net for the prior game is that Theo would get a break to rest up. After a long playoff "run" at the end of the season and two big playoff games, it's a good thing to get a night off.
- Tyson Strachan would also be inserted into the lineup as Florida chose wisely not to roll 5 defenders with Jason Garrison and Keaton Ellerby out with lower body injuries. Stracula would be pulled out of San Antonio coming off a big win against the Chicago Wolves and inserted into his first ever NHL playoff game. In other news Wojtek Wolski would also be scratched along with the usuals, though Krys Barch would almost get himself into the mix late.
- Sean Bergenheim would nearly net his third goal of the series as he caught a lob pass across the zone teed up by Marek Zidlicky, but Brodeur would pull another trick out of his 90's hat with the double pad stack. Seriously, props for that blast from the past.
- The Calder Trophy candidates were announced yesterday, being Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique or Gabriel Landeskog? Landeskog. By. A. Mile.
- We saw it earlier in the season when Garrison missed two weeks for a foot injury or something of that nature, but with all the regression and money talk becoming the focus on his free agent status, people have forgotten how good he is on the bad Panthers penalty killing unit. The goals are always a plus, but his defensive play has been overlooked as his game has become multidimensional. Garrison forms a great pairing with Mike Weaver on the PK, and it would be a shame to lose that for low-balling him after last summer's spending spree.
- Jose Theodore has been tested in every first period he's played in, and unlike the last time; Theo would make the important saves to keep things even. It's asking a lot for the Panthers to get the early lead as we've seen in this series, so the strong goaltending early is crucial to the Panthers success. Theodore was seeing everything thrown at him through the first twenty, making 11 saves.
- The former Devil John Madden would nearly put home a goal as he and Marco Sturm busted into the zone on a break, but he'd send the puck out of play with Marty Brodeur out of position.
- With Zidlicky in the box for interference, Florida would score the only way they know; on the powerplay. Stephen Weiss and Brian Campbell would have a touch and go session as Kris Versteeg would sneak down towards the goal line on the far side, where he'd blow the puck past Brodeur on a sharp angle shot for the one goal lead. Tough shots make pretty goals.
- Rats on the ice after the goal. Seriously, what part of DON'T DO THAT BEFORE A VICTORY don't you understand? The home team might get away with that for now, but someday they will call a delay of game penalty. Read the label, folks.
- Shawn Matthias looked better tonight than he had in the previous four games, but he's still having problems conjuring up the speed to make any big plays, as did many of his teammates.
- On the opening play of a four minute powerplay, Tomas Fleischmann would streak in when a combination of Broduer's poke check and Andy Greene's sliding mass of fat would see Flash nail his him on the post, sending him to the locker room. Didn't need that. He would later return to the bench and the double minor would be killed. With Garry out, Flash has the best playoff beard on the team. Just throwing it out there.
- The BAC was packed to the roof with 19,513 paying fans, the largest crowd to ever watch a Panthers playoff game. That's not terribly surprising, since most were at the old Miami Arena anyways. Either way, thats three games of 19k+ fans.
New ScoreboardClub Red loan payments here we come!
- The first half of the third period was clearly controlled by the Panthers as the Devils continued their second period trend of taking bad penalties. Florida wouldn't be able to capitalize on them, but it did waste the Devil's precious time as they tried to even the game at 1.
- You could really feel the pressure settling in as Peter Deboer rolled out his big guns for what seemed like two minute shifts, the Devils threw every possible shot on net from every angle. But as the Devils tried to fight back in the final minutes for the third game in the series, there would finally be a costly misplay. From the Devils. With 90% of the play in the Panthers defensive zone, a harmless dump-in from Scottie Upshall would be intercepted by Brodeur, who'd lose control of the puck as Versteeg centered for Upshall to tap it into a yawning cage. That goal was all about hard work from tired players.
- With two minutes left and the net empty, Erik Gudbranson would take a penalty back in the defensive zone for roughing. The silver lining of a penalty kill and an empty net of course is firing at will on said empty net, which the Panthers would do, but it would eventually be Tomas Kopecky scoring the automatic goal with a hooking call drawn on a breakaway. Panthers win.
Three(well, four) Stars:
1st: Jose Theodore rebounded from a shoddy first period in Game 3 by putting up a tremendous shutout to counter Brodeur's the game before. Many of his 30 saves came while the Panthers were fumbling with a 1-0 lead, and his play in the final 10 minutes absolutely secured the victory.
2nd: Kris Versteeg scored the game winner and was the catalyst on the Upshall goal, but those were just the highlights of his great game.
3rd: Speaking of great games, Tomas Kopecky has really adapted to his role in the playoffs and it certainly showed on the penalty kill. Not to mention he get's a tip of the hat for only the second automatic goal I've ever seen.
Worst: After being invincible the last game, Marty Brodeur had a tough game. He'll be smacking his head on the wall all the way back to Newark.
“We worked our butts off to get the lead and to build on it,'' Versteeg said. “It was exciting, a lot of fun. But we have a lot in front of us. You remember what the crowd did for us.''
Dineen and Florida's playoff veterans had been preaching that the Panthers need to sacrifice and lay things all on the line in the playoffs. Even though it sounds cliché, that's exactly what the Panthers did on Saturday.
Whether it was Gudbranson diving to clear a puck sans stick or Matthias fighting his way past Jersey defenders Marek Zidlicky and Kovalchuk for a loose puck near the blueline, the Panthers left the arena knowing they left whatever they had on the ice.
Matthias' hard-fought puck battle ended up on Versteeg's stick as he worked behind the goal. Versteeg then spotted Scottie Upshall flashing in and fed him a sweet pass as Upshall banged the puck into a net Brodeur was out of as he was trying to get it himself.
“Those are the little things that win you games at this time of the season,'' Brian Campbell said. “Everyone has to do that in the playoffs. You have to pay the price to win right now.''
Said Dineen: “We had some [battles]; that's the kind of video you can sit on and say 'that was the difference in the game'.''
With the Panthers clinging to a 1-0 lead with 14 minutes left in the third period, Brodeur roamed behind the net to fetch a dump-in from Scottie Upshall. But Versteeg raced in, beat Brodeur to the puck and flipped it to Scottie Upshall, who simply had to tap it into a gaping net left open by the napping 39-year-old legend for the two-lead dagger at 13:17 of the third as the rubber rats came raining down from a rocking BankAtlantic Center.
“I’ve seen [Versteeg] jump in ahead of their ‘d’,’’ Upshall said. “This guy takes pucks away from everybody. Marty is an excellent puck-handler, to strip a puck like that and throw a little backhander out, that’s a nice little feeling, especially if you’re shooting into an open net.’’
“We played for the full 60 minutes. We didn’t sit back and let Theo do all the work.’’
Just before Upshall’s goal, Theodore stoned $100 million playoff bust Ilya Kovalchuk with consecutive doorstop saves.
After a late Panthers’ penalty, Devils coach Pete DeBoer pulled Brodeur for a 6-on-4 advantage, however, a breakaway by Tomas Kopecky was ruled an automatic goal with 33.9 seconds left because he was interfered with from behind by Kovalchuk.
Playing at home should be a source of comfort for the Devils, but they 0-4 in their last four elimination games on home ice and are 4-8 in postseason contests at Prudential Center since moving from the Meadowlands to Newark in 2007-08.
“We don’t care about the past,” Devils captain Zach Parise said defiantly. “We have to find a way to win two in a row. We have to win. We have no choice.”
The Devils have gone 27 consecutive playoff games without winning two in a row since taking the last three of a 2007 first-round series against Tampa Bay – the last time they made it out of the first round. In their history, the Devils have won just two of seven series in which they trailed 3-2, but they are facing a Panthers team that has not won a playoff series since the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh.
“We know the spot we’re in,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’ve got to win at home and then we’re playing one game to move on. So, we’ve got to take care of business at home.”
Up Next: The Panthers and Devils meet again in New Jersey as Florida looks for another W to close out the series. A start time has yet to be decided for Tuesday's matchup, but you know whats never up in the air? The LBC game thread. Doors open one hour before puckdrop.