It’s been 12 years since the Florida Panthers played their last playoff game. Coincidentally, it was against the New Jersey Devils, who they faced tonight in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the BankAtlantic Center. Much like game four of that year’s quarterfinals, the Panthers found themselves on the wrong side of the outcome, falling 3-2.
The Devils wasted no time, scoring all three goals in the opening frame. Patrik Elias got the scoring started. After he got the puck down low to the right of the goal, he pulled a nifty stickhandling move around Jose Theodore. With Theodore laying on the ice, Elias softly lifted the puck over him and into the left side of the net to make it 1-0 Devils just 6:31 in.
10 minutes into the period, Shawn Matthias took a double minor for high sticking. This proved to be detrimental for the Panthers, who killed off all but seven seconds of the penalty, but allowed the Devils to get their second goal of the night 14:11 into the period. Martin Brodeur passed the puck from near his crease all the way to David Clarkson, who was skating into the offensive zone. He had Danius Zuburs in front of the net, who let go an easy snapshot to make it 2-0.
Former Panther Ryan Carter, who actually played in seven games for the Cats way back in October, before being claimed by Peter DeBoer’s Devils off waivers, scored just 45 seconds later. He intercepted the puck on the right side of the neutral zone, and came in to Theodore’s right. He let go an easy wrist shot to give the Devils a seemingly insurmountable lead at 3-0.
The Panthers came out of the dressing room buzzing, and looking dominant. Sean Berginheim sent the crowd to their feet for the first time 7:44 in. He came across the blue line to Brodeur’s right, but cut across the crease and scored from the left side. The first Panthers playoff goal in more than 4,300 days made it a game again at 3-1.
15:23 into the period, Stephen Gionta took a tripping penalty. This led to the second Panthers goal, this time coming from Kris Versteeg. Mikael Samuelsson gave the puck to Versteeg down low on the left side. Versteeg let go a soft wrister to pull the Panthers within one. Stephen Weiss and Elias got invlved in some extracurriculars after the goal, allowing for coincidental minors.
The rest of the game was played clean and tight, but the Panthers could not find a way to get past the Devils defense for the elusive third goal. The two teams return to the ice Sunday night, with faceoff set for 7:30. The game can be seen nationwide on the NBC Sports Network.