It was a wild affair, but the Florida Panthers edged a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils in game three of their best-of-seven series.
What started off as an early lead that had the Devils laughing after scoring three goals and watching Florida’s goaltender Jose Theodore pulled just 6:16 into the game, it quickly turned into a nightmare for New Jersey.
The Devils started off scoring right off the bat when Zach Parise scored just 0:33 into the game. It set the pace for the next few minutes as rookie Stephen Gionta recorded his first career NHL playoff goal at 3:27, while Patrik Elias scored on the power play at 6:16. They watched as Theodore was pulled following the third goal and Scott Clemmensen was placed in his stead.
Clemmensen, a former New Jersey Devil, was a dangerous match against the Devils. He knows their tricks, considering he knows the majority of the team and spent seven years with the organization. If anyone could stop the Devils, it was him.
What the Devils didn’t bank on was how this change would set the tone for the remainder of the game. That momentum in the first 6:16 was all the Devils got out of the game. The change in goaltenders ended up shifting the momentum of the game to the Panthers.
Their biggest strength in this series has come from their power play. Sean Bergenheim (16:11) and Jason Garrison (19:52) started the turn around of the game when each scored power play goals to edge the Panthers within one goal of the Devils.
This series has seen very few altercations between the two clubs. But this match…something had to give as the Panthers started to get under their opponent’s skin. As the first period started to come to a close, Elias was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at 15:16 followed by Devils’ Bryce Salvador, Steve Bernier and Panthers’ Scottie Upshall for roughing at 18:13.
Elias blamed himself for losing the momentum for the Devils. His penalty cost them a goal, which then gave the Panthers the momentum in the game.
“It started with me,” Elias said. “In tonight’s game, I just made a stupid decision out there. We’re up three-nothing. We got a momentum going and everything. I take a totally uncalled for penalty and obviously they get a goal. The momentum shifted on their side.”
After the first period, the Devils couldn’t get their mojo back. They sat in the locker room during intermission realizing that they had already lost the game. There was nothing that could do or say to each other to get that feeling back that they had at the start of the game. They had lost their edge in the game.
In the middle period, Florida continued to claw their way back as Mike Weaver scored at 2:18 to tie up the game. Devils Coach Peter DeBoer then made the decision to pull Martin Brodeur from the net and replace him with Johan Hedberg.
“We’re up three-nothing,” DeBoer explained. “They pull their goalie, this momentum changing tactic. It works for them. They come back 3-2, we’re going to the break in the first period, I thought this was an opportunity for us all to catch our breaths and get our game back.”
Unfortunately, this tactic didn’t work for the Devils as well as it did for the Panthers. After all, Clemmensen heading to the net is more dangerous for the Devils than Theodore. Taking Brodeur out of the game, just doesn’t have the same effect.
With another power play to their advantage following a hi-sticking call on Petr Sykora at 5:22, Florida’s Brian Campbell tallied the team’s third power play goal and game winner at 6:34, helping his club go 3-for-3 on the power play.
“We’ve been burned in two games taking penalties,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Their power play has been the difference.”
“That’s been the problem all series is their power play,” Zach Parise said of the issues facing the Panthers.
As the period wound down, the Devils had a chance at another goal when Marek Zidlicky scored, but it was called off. Why? Bernier was caught interfering with the Florida goaltender as Zidlicky’s goal hit the back of the net. No penalty was called along with the no goal which sent the fans reeling.
Bernier said after the game that he believes he was pushed into Clemmensen.
“That’s what I felt,” Bernier said. “What can you do? There’s not much you can do. Every time you go in front of the net, somebody pushes you. I don’t think I really hit the goalie very hard, but nothing you can do about it.”
As the final period pressed on, the Devils were never able to regain their spark again. The players sat on the bench like they had lost the game long before the game had ended. They just couldn’t get that momentum back, which turned the game three decision into a 4-3 final score in favor of the Panthers.
Florida now has a 2-1 lead in the series. Game four is Thursday night.