Despite a furious third-period comeback, the Florida Panthers came up short in Game 7 of their opening-round matchup against the New Jersey Devils. Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique eliminated the Panthers with his game-winning goal in double-overtime, sending a dejected sellout crowd of 19,313 inside BankAtlantic Center to the exits, many of them with rat in hand as they commiserated over the gut-wrenching 3-2 loss.
After being outplayed the first two periods, the Cats entered the third period down 2-0. But it was in the final frame that the desperate Panthers tilted the ice in their favor. Florida got on the board at 5:02 of the third when Steven Weiss connected off a blast from the right circle with his team skating 4-on-3. From that point on in the third, every single one of the 19,313 fans were on their feet—for the rest of the game.
The Panthers, who held a 19-6 shot advantage in the third, would send the crowd into delierum when Marcel Goc pounced on a power-play rebound to tie the game at two with just under four minutes remaining in the game. Luckily for the Devils, they were able to escape the third, but not without a few key saves from veteran netminder Martin Brodeur.
“You could tell the momentum was shifting for them and we took some penalties and that put us behind the eight-ball a bit,” Brodeur said. “You can’t do that in the playoffs…we made our own bed in the third period. But give them credit, they played hard and went to the net as hard. I think the 20 minutes they played in the third was their best period of hockey in this series.”
Brodeur finished with 43 saves, including several other huge ones in the first overtime before Henrique eventually ended the contest.
The Devils will now take on Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the Panthers, although it was a heartbreaking way to end a season, 2012 was a huge step in the right direction for the club, one they will look to build on in the future.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” said Weiss, who concluded the first playoff series of his 10-year career with three goals and two assists. “It’s so much fun to be a part of hockey like that. We’ve got to go beyond that now. It’s not going to be good enough to take a step backward.”