by David Pavlak on 04/16/12 at 05:02 PM ET
The first two games in Florida are over and the Devils, who are favored even though they are the six seed, have split the games with the Panthers. Both games were hard fought for the Devils, however, an early lead for the Panthers in game two was one of the reasons the Devils couldn’t mount the necessary comeback. Heading back to New Jersey, the Devils will have to turn up the heat and walk away with two additional wins before locking up the series in Florida.
Game one was all Devils right from the start. The Devils jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period. Patrik Elias opened the scoring with a highlight reel goal that left Jose Theodore sliding all over the ice as if he had one to many drinks prior to the game.
“It was unbelievable,” goalie Martin Brodeur said to Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. “From where I was sitting (he was actually standing in his net at the other end of the ice), I couldn’t believe the patience. I couldn’t see the angle and whether he had anything to shoot at or not. He kind of stopped, skated back, looked at him, deked left and right. Pretty impressive goal. He looked like he had nothing (to shoot at). Jose came over. He was scrambling his legs and his feet were dangling. Patrik found that hole. That was a really nice goal.”
Dainius Zubrus would make it 2-0 after a stretch pass from Martin Brodeur made its way to David Clarkson. Clarkson pushed the puck forward to Zubrus who was coming in on Theodore with nearly no defenseman near him. 40 seconds later Ryan Carter would score his his first goal of the series to give the Devils a large lead at the end of the period.
The Panthers would mount of a comeback in the second period with goals from Sean Bergenheim and Kris Versteeg. Though the lead would be cut to 3-2, the Panthers would not be able to get the decisive third goal past Brodeur, who racked up his 100th career playoff win.
“It’s nice. Only one goalie has more than 100 wins,” Brodeur said. “It’s not something I was looking at. That’s a stat that is out there for people to enjoy.”
Head Coach Pete DeBoer was not concerned with the team losing the three goal lead.
“We’re at a different point in the season. I feel very comfortable with our ability to play with a lead and to play in those situations much more than I did at that point in the season when we were here the first time,” DeBoer said. “So, while it crosses your mind, my comfort level was real high.”
Game two wouldn’t be as nice to the Devils. A 3-0 lead in the first period of game one resulted in a win for the Devils. However, a 3-0 deficit after two period in game two would result in a loss, evening up the series.
Stephen Weiss would be the thorn in the Devils side in game two, with two early goals in the first two periods of play. Weiss’ power-play goal in the first period came just 23 seconds into the game after Andy Greene was called for a tripping penalty only seconds after the puck had dropped.
“I went to step up and I got my stick stuck between his legs. I was trying to get it out, but I know that’s a penalty,” Greene said. Taking that penalty early wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t smart giving them that momentum 11 seconds in.”
“He’s a little bit of the identity of our team, a guy that has been here the longest and a little bit of the face of the franchise from a player’s perspective,” coach Kevin Dineen said of Weiss. “I think he wasn’t happy with Game 1 with the way it went for him and instead of chirping about it he went out and did something about it.”
With the Devils down 3-0 at the start of the third period, Travis Zajac lit the lamp to cut the lead to two. He scored just 48 seconds into the period. Ilya Kovalchuk would notch a goal of his own two minutes later. The Devils, like the Panthers in game one, were unable to find the all important tying goal. Tomas Fleischmann would put in an empty net goal with one second left to give the Panthers a 4-2 win.
The Devils will now return to the Prudential Center where they look to pick up two additional wins and push the series to its brink.
“I think we would’ve taken a split coming down here,” DeBoer said. “There are no easy matchups in the NHL playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected anyone ewas going to beat anybody in four. Now that we got a split we have to take care of business at home.”
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