Devils Fall to Panthers in OT

In what should be a mad dash to the finish line, the Devils are doing their best to get as many points as they can. That means that getting just one point in a game is not enough.

The big picture is they need every two points they can get.

“It’s tough to lose that extra point,” forward Patrik Elias said. “We’ve got to try and keep going, keep getting two points.”

The Devils loss to the Panthers in overtime, showed that the team is still far from perfect. Their power play is lacking. The little mistakes that were made were very costly. The “I should have done this instead of that” makes players realize that they are going to have to play smarter hockey.

Their biggest lament on Friday night was giving up too many breakaways which led to goals or took away from their power play.

“A lot of times it was bouncing pucks,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “And you have to be careful with bouncing pucks. I know you can give up two-on-ones on bouncing pucks. They had one. That was the biggest factor for me.”

The Panthers were the first to get on the scoreboard. Chris Higgins tallied Florida’s first goal at 6:52 of the first. The Devils responded two minutes later, at 8:52, when Travis Zajac tied up the game. Jason Arnott made it 2-1 at 11:01, but Florida defenseman Dennis Wideman tied the game at 12:35 when he scored through the five-hole of Devils goalie Johan Hedberg on the power play.

In the middle stanza, rookie defenseman Mark Fayne inched the Devils further at 6:20 while working on the same line with Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Hedberg had been caught outside of his net multiple times throughout the night. At one point in the game he headed to the blueline to play the puck, but wound up turning the puck over He then had to switch roles from being the goalie to being a defenseman, while the Devils’ defenseman headed back to play goalie. He was called for tripping at 7:53 in the second period after going behind the net to play the puck, but wound up tripping a Panther.

At 18:24, the Elias line started getting into scrums with the other line out on the ice. From one end of the ice to the other, the scrums kept ending up in front of the net. Rod Pelley and Colin White paired up against Steve Bernier, while David Clarkson and a few others got into their own scrums. White and Pelley not only were able to pull Bernier’s jersey over his head, but they were also able to draw a penalty in the scrum, sending Bernier to the penalty box for roughing. They went into the third period with 24 seconds left in the power play. But as stated earlier, their power play wasn’t tops.

With Jason Garrison in the penalty box for slashing at 12:07, the Devils were on the power play once again. Kovalchuk batted down the puck, but an unlucky bounce and a faulty pass to Brian Rolston allowed Mike Santorelli to take action and grab the puck and take off all the way into the Devils’ zone. The shorthanded goal at 12:52 tied up the game to send it into overtime.

“I grabbed [the puck] and dropped it on the ice,” Kovalchuk said. “I just should have played it safe and put it in the corner back.”

In overtime, the breakdown in the defensive zone, allowed the Panthers to take sole possession of the puck and beat the Devils with a goal at 2:00 from Rostislav Olesz.

In those final seconds, the Devils allowed the Panthers to have puck possession, instead of fighting for the puck. That was how they lost the game in overtime. They switched to playing the Panthers game and didn’t make the opponent play into their traps or fight for the puck. It was a very different game from the night before where they had busted up the Rangers offense from the inside/out.

“I think it wasn’t our best effort,” Kovalchuk said after the game. “Our special teams have to be better. Our power play has to be better.”

“We have to be at our best,” Lemaire noted. “When you play against a good team, they’re all good teams. It’s Montreal, then it’s Carolina, then it’s Toronto. They’re all good. That’s why you have to play your best. You have to play well and make good passes. In the first period, in the first ten minutes, I don’t think we made one good pass. It’s tough to play hockey that way.”

The Devils head to Montreal on Super Bowl Sunday.

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