SUNRISE, Fla. – The resilient Florida Panthers never make it easy on opponents. In a 3-0 hole to the New Jersey Devils after the first period, and playing flat-footed, Florida scored four unanswered goals to give their former coach, Pete DeBoer, a rude welcome back.
With just 2:03 left in the game, Stephen Weiss won a battle in the right corner. He passed to the slot, where forward Tomas Fleischmann was settled. He faked a shot and went to his left. With Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur already down, his shot went over the goalie’s outstretched leg, giving the Panthers their first lead of the night, 4-3. It was his eighth goal of the season. It turned out to be the game-winner.
“Weiss made a sick pass,” Fleischmann said. “They didn’t cover me in the slot. I saw Brodeur coming out, and I didn’t have much to shoot at, so I faked the shot and went to the side and it was open ice. I tried to put it in and it just worked out.”
Fleischmann’s goal came on the heels of another dramatic Panthers comeback, led by Weiss.
Down 3-2 and on the power-play with 11:45 remaining in the game, the Panthers found themselves in a 4-on-4 situation 45 seconds later, forward Jack Skille knocked forward Ilya Kovalchuk down in the neutral zone. Kovalchuk fell to the ice for a few seconds, and after being helped off by a trainer, Skille went to the box for interference.
One the ensuing 4-on-3 penalty kill, Weiss broke away from the Devils defensive pair, and earned a breakaway. He was able to get the puck past the glove of Brodeur and tied the game at 3 goals apiece.
“After [Mike Weaver] made a heck of a block shot, they had a forward on defense who was a little flat-footed, so I just tried a little give-and-go,” Weiss said. “Thank goodness [Jason Garrison] didn’t dump the puck in.”
It was just the second time in team history that the Panthers had come back from a three-goal deficit. On Feb 10, 2009, the Panthers trailed 4-1 against Toronto before winning 5-4 in OT.
The Devils seemed to have control of the game in the opening frame. They struck first blood just 8:17 into the game. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder took a hard shot from the point. Jose Theodore’s initial save went right to Kovalchuk, who was pressing on the right side. Kovalchuk had an open net to shoot at and was able to get his fourth goal of the season to make it 1-0 Devils.
About a minute later, Theodore made another save, this time off defenseman Adam Larsson. The rebound went to forward Peter Sykora’s backhand, and he easily got it past Theodore to make it 2-0. It was Sykora’s fourth goal.
New Jersey was not done. 11:49 into the first period, Patrik Elias skated down the left side. With a defenseman in front and Dainius Zubrus coming down the right, he chose to fake the shot and pass it across the ice, fooling Theodore and allowing Zubrus his sixth goal of the season, giving New Jersey a 3-0 lead.
“It’s unacceptable, the way we started the game,” Weiss Said.
Theodore settled in, and had a perfect second and third periods.
Early in the first period, Florida Shawn Matthias laid a hard hit on Devils’ defense Anton Volchenkov. He left the game with facial lacerations and did not return, receiving 12 stitches in the locker room. 2:24 into the second period, Devils’ center Rod Pelley and Matthias exchanged punches. Matthias held his own, but Pelley sent the Panthers’ forward down.
The fight appeared to ignite the Panthers flame, as forward Kris Versteeg took over, scoring two goals and singlehandedly bringing Florida back into the game.
5:28 in, Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov came in with the puck on Brodeur. In the right slot, he passed to Stephen Weiss at center. Weiss missed the puck, but Versteeg was stationed at the left side and was able to wrist the puck up over Brodeur to put Florida on the board. It was his team-leading 10th goal of the season in just his 20th game, making the score 3-1.
Later, Jason Garrison had a shot from the point that went wide of the net, but right to the stick of Versteeg, who was able to tap a wrist shot home for the goal to bring the Panthers closer at 3-2.
When all was said and done, each member of the Panthers’ top line had a goal in the game, and the line finished with seven points. Versteeg and Weiss had three points each.
“A line just doesn’t come overnight, you have to build at it and work at it. We’re still working on it and there’s still things to get better at,” Versteeg said.
- Forward Marcel Goc missed his third straight game with an upper body injury.
- Before this season, Weiss had three three-point games. He has three of those in the last four games, and four overall this season
- Florida is now in second place in the Eastern Conference. They sit just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins
- The Panthers will practice at the BankAtlantic Center tomorrow. Practice is NOT open to the public.
- Stephen Weiss (FLA) G, 2A
- Tomas Fleischmann (FLA) GWG
- Kris Versteeg (FLA) 2 G, A