With playoff positioning at stake, it was logically assumed New Jersey would be pumped and primed to bring their "A" game to Sunrise for what well could have been a laugher of ridiculous proportions. Didn't happen.
Without going the "they worked hard all year, had some bad bounces, ran into hot clubs" route, Florida wanted this game. You'd have to look beyond shots-on-goal, because as solid as the Cats appeared all night, their 18 (4 in the second period) paled next to the Devils' 44 (22 in the third). Scott Clemmensen - generally improving with each successive start - was every bit up to the task, allowing two but letting his defensive partners play well above what's been the norm. Keith Ballard (1a, +3) and Jason Garrison (1a) - to name but two - stepped it up another degree.
Goals by Michael Frolik, Radek Dvorak, and Nathan Horton (2p) were enough to hold the home fort; no Panther had more than 2 shots in the game.
Not a similar story at the other end as six New Jersey players topped 4 shots or better (Kovalchuk: 0p, 7sog). Patrik Elias and David Clarkson markers kept it interesting but Clemmer simply was not to be solved.
The Frolik goal in particular was a thing of remarkable beauty, beating Martin Brodeur with a thread-the-needle rocket in the second frame. Horton's was standard fare: a wicked wrister of the type he's one of the best in the league at performing. Nick Tarnasky continues to be a quickly-evolving pest of the highest order; a fight with Clarkson early in the third period (their third such bout careerwise) kept the Cats focused and hungry; and to think Steve MacIntyre only had to play four minutes. Curious about Evgeny Dadonov? Coach Pete went a little easier on him, getting roughly half the minutes (8:07, 0p, even) of his NHL debut on Tuesday.
Be sure to check in with our buds at In Lou We Trust for further details from the New Jersey syndicate.
Next up: home-and-home with our pals from Tampa beginning Saturday.