Twelve years is a long time to be away from anything. The last time the Panthers had a playoffs logo painted on their ice, the world was a different place. The Playstation 2 was all the rage, no one knew who Dora the Explorer was, and we still had faith in Floridians’ ability to count. Oh, right, and Martin Brodeur backstopped his Devils team to a Stanley Cup championship, steam rolling over the Panthers in the first round. Brodeur, along with Patrick Elias and Petr Sykora are the only members of that team still with the Devils. I challenge you to name three players still with the Panthers from last season…
The early goings saw the Devils calm, poised and on the attack. The Panthers seemed a bit unsettled, much as the Flyers did in their series opener in Pittsburgh. The Cats suffered a similar fate as after being peppered with 13 shots in the first six and a half minutes of the first, birthday boy Elias pulled a few danlges from his old bag tricks and finally beat Jose Theodore for what seemed like an inevitable first goal. The Devils continued to pressure, but Theodore stood tall, making a number of strong saves on Zack Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk before the Devils broke through twice in quick succession. Dainius Zubrus buried a wrister on the power play at 14:11, followed 45 seconds later by an unassisted tally from former Florida Panther Ryan Carter.
Finding themselves down 3-0 heading to the dressing room, the Panthers were able to gather themselves and start to chip away at the deficit as well as the 26-9 shot advantage the Devils posted on the first. Florida finally broke through at 7:44 of the second with a strong move to the net from Sean Bergenheim. As you may recall, Bergenheim had a heroic playoff run last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 9 goals over 16 games, a number of which you’d call “clutch.” However the Panthers were unable to build on that momentum after two Wojtek Wolski penalties kept them on the kill for a good portion of the next 8 minutes. Nonetheless, given their own chance on the power play after Stephen Gionta took a call for tripping, Kris Versteeg walked the goal line and beat Brodeur five-hole to bring the Panthers within one.
The third period saw a good deal of neutral zone play early, but it was the play of Brodeur that would inevitably seal the game and his 100th career playoff victory. His vintage style was clearly evident as he made save after save with what seemed like little effort thanks to superior positioning. Theodore made a few key saves himself, including one on Parise off a 2-on-1 with Kovalchuk. With their goaltending selection in question leading up to Game 1, you have to say Kevin Dineen and Dave Tallon made the right call.
All is not lost for the boys of Sunrise. They can certainly take the positives of this game and push forward in Game 2. While they dominate early, the Devils let the Panthers hang around, and while they didn’t allow any glorious scoring chances that could have tied it, you have to think they gave the Panthers a bit of confidence as they clawed their way back into the game. Devils head coach Pete DeBoer agreed that while his team played well in the third, he’d like to see them be more clinical in their finishes. Further, he also credited the Panthers with bring the fight late.
“I thought our third period was great. I mean that’s exactly how you want to play when you have the lead. We thought we bottled them up, you know, we had a couple great chances to score, Zack on the 2-on-1, and Zajac on the power play. We finish off those, it’s a perfect period.”
“You have to give them credit, that’s push back by them. I don’t think it was as much of what we didn’t do as a credit to them. We knew they were going to come out play their best period.”
Perhaps a tone of gracious over confidence? Perhaps.
Faceoff for Game 2 is Sunday at 7:30PM Eastern.