Recap: Zajac hat-trick powers desperate Devils past Panthers

Cats rally from three down to close gap before fading away in the third period.

The Florida Panthers got off to their obligatory terrible start before staging a spirited comeback to pull within a goal of host New Jersey, until the Devils put them away with two third period scores to complete a 6-3 victory. The win kept the one-time Kansas City Scouts in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase, while the Panthers dropped their third in a row and have now lost six of their last seven.

Travis Zajac scored three times and added an assist for the Devils. His first goal came just twelve seconds into the game and he bagged another, on a power play, later in the first period to make it 3-0 New Jersey.

Jaromir Jagr scored the game's second goal and added three helpers to give the Devils another four-point performance. Wait, how old is this guy again?

Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers on the board with a short-handed goal, from Nick Bjugstad, late in the first frame to stop the bleeding.

Bjugstad set up Brad Boyes for his twentieth of the season 50 seconds into the second period to pull the Cats within striking distance. Boyes came off the boards and drove to the front of the net before backhanding the puck past Martin Brodeur.

Ryane Clowe notched his seventh a couple minutes later to give the Devils another multi-goal advantage, completing a pretty passing play from Zajac and Jagr after a Florida turnover in the neutral zone.

The Panthers rallied again when Brandon Pirri picked up his tenth goal one second after Patrik Elias stepped out of the sin bin. Dylan Olsen blasted the puck off Pirri and into the back of the net, chasing the legendary Brodeur in favor of Cory Schneider. Rookie Vincent Trocheck got credit for the secondary assist.

Dan Ellis and Florida's rickety defense managed to keep the game close for another seventeen minutes or so, but a short-handed tally by Jacob Josefson, his first goal of the season, at the 4:02 mark of the final frame and Zajac's third marker five minutes later put the game away for good.

Flotsam & Jetsam

  • Zajac and Jagr made the Panthers look straight-up amateurish, shredding their paper mache defense to ribbons. Zajac could have easily had a couple more goals. Florida is not going to turn things around for real until they can consistently stop players of this ilk and answer back with a few of their own.
  • Got to give Peter Horachek a thumbs down for not starting Scott Clemmensen last night. The Clemmer has strong numbers against his former team, while Dan Ellis is still adjusting to life in a Panthers jersey and the quality chances against that life entails. Can't fault Ellis much for the goals allowed (the Cats were simply horrible in their own end and in the neutral zone), but so far he has not impressed and can't be inspiring much confidence among his mates. Roberto Luongo is playing behind the same porous bunch and manages to not give up five or six goals when he's out there.
  • This was a must-win for the Devils, so give them credit for coming out strong and easily exposing Florida achilles heel, the first period. New Jersey outshot the torpid Panthers 18-4 en route to a 3-1 lead after the opening twenty minutes. The official team of Hades took the season series 2-1, with the first of those wins coming in overtime.
  • The Cats finished up a very busy March with a dreadful 5-11-1 record.
  • New Jersey took three penalties between the Pirri and Josefson goals, but Florida's woeful power play couldn't take advantage to even things up. The Cats finished the game 0 for 5 on the PP; history awaits.
  • The two helpers moved rookie Nick Bjugstad into a tie with Scottie Upshall for the team scoring lead with 35 points.
  • Despite only stopping 6 of 9 shots, Brodeur ended up posting his eighteenth win of the season. Schneider turned aside all 13 shots he faced in a rock-solid relief appearance.
  • The Panthers play their last road game of the 2013-14 season tonight against the New York Islanders. Their final five are at the BB&T Center. Come out for a tilt or two (or more) and say goodbye in person to this current incarnation of the team. Hopefully, next year's model will look considerably different.
  • Visit In Lou We Trust for more on last night's affair at The Rock.