Panthers Earn First Playoff Victory Since 1997

It was 15 years, but worth the wait for the Florida Panthers, as another playoff drought was ended Saturday night. Over the 15 years, dating back to the opening game of the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers, the Panthers had lost nine straight playoff games. That was the longest active drought in the NHL.

In game two of the 2012 edition, much like Friday’s game one, the winning team scored the first three goals, and the opposing team came back, but couldn’t find the equalizer.

This time Florida came out victorious over the New Jersey Devils 4-2, tying the series at one win apiece.

Penalties, although few, proved to be a huge difference maker. Just 11 seconds into the game, Andy Greene tripped Marcel Goc into Devils netminder Martin Brodeur. That penalty led to the Panthers initial goal, coming off the stick of team leader Stephen Weiss.

Weiss caught the rebound of Mikael Samuelsson’s shot from the left point, slipping it past Brodeur to make it 1-0. The goal set records, as it was the fastest Panthers playoff goal in their brief history. It also marked the quickest postseason power-play goal since 1987.

The period was bookended with another penalty. This time, two Devils were headed to the box, as Alexi Ponikarovski hi-sticked Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson was then hit by David Clarkson, who was called for charging. Both penalties occurred at the 19:43 mark.

On the ensuing, Weiss doubled up the score, again on a rebound. Jason Garrison shot the puck from the top right circle, with Brodeur’s save again going to Weiss, who had an easy top-shelf goal. Marcel Goc was credited with an assist on the play, as he redirected the initial shot.

Goc later scored a goal of his own, which turned out to be the game-winner. 14:39 into the second, he took a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle. Brodeur made the save, but a funny bounce off his shoulder redirected it into the net.

Despite outplaying the Devils, Florida was less crisp in passing, and played what could be considered a sloppy game. New Jersey appeared content to take the tied series to Newark.

The third period changed everything, however. It looked like a different team took the Devils place, as they played their best period of the brief postseason.

Travis Zajac scored just 48 seconds into the third period, as he beat Jose Theodore with a close range shot. Theodore went to his right, but Zajac shot the puck through the five-hole, putting the Devils on the board.

Just 1:14, the dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk took advantage of a turnover, as he tipped in a centering pass from Adam Henrique. With New Jersey threatening, and Florida having used their time out in the second period on an icing, it appeared that the Panthers would have to wait one more game before getting back into the playoff win column.

Florida scored an empty net goal in the final second of the game, with Tomas Fleischmann beating his defender for the icing on the cake.

To their credit, the Panthers played consistent, and their consistency is what gave them the game. Theodore turned up the heat, and played like the goaltender of his prime. He made 10 third period saves, and 23 overall. He truly was the difference maker in the third period. The veteran netminder earned his first postseason win since 2008, when he beat the Minnesota Wild in game seven with the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.

Goc and Weiss also played well, but as has been the case all year, this game was another team effort, with all four lines playing consistent. The thwarted attempts by the Devils in the first and third periods, keeping one of the hottest teams in hockey at bay for the majority of the game.

The two teams will meet again on Tuesday at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

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