The Florida Panthers continue to rewrite their history books, as they shutout the New Jersey Devils 3-0 to take a 3-2 series lead to Newark Tuesday. This marks the first time the Panthers have taken a 3-2 lead since their miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996.
Panthers netminder Jose Theodore,who was benched in game 4 after being pulled in favor of Scott Clemmensen during game 3, made his presence known. He earned his second career playoff shutout, stopping all 30 shots he faced, while earning the number one star of the game. His last shutout came during game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quaterfinals in 2004, when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins.
“For me, that’s Theo,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “That’s what I expected out of him. He gets sat a game and he comes back, that’s a true professional. That’s what my full expectation was, is how he played tonight.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers had a hard time breaking Martin Brodeur, who was flawless through the opening frame. He stopped the first 13 shots he faced over exactly 24 minutes. Over the course of the game, the Devils goalie matched his counterpart with 30 saves.
The teams were scoreless until the 4:00 mark of the second period, when the Panthers struck first. 30 seconds before, Marek Zidlicky took an interference call. On the ensuing powerplay, Stephen Weiss received a pass at the high slot. He then found Kris Versteeg in the left side faceoff circle, who one-timed the puck past Brodeur to make the game 1-0.
The Panthers had a huge opportunity later in the period, as Daniel Zubrus took a dangerous double-minor for hi-sticking Erik Gudbranson, who was stitched up and returned later in the game. The Devils were up for the task, killing off the penalty while allowing just three Panthers shots over the four minutes. This allowed them to stay in the game, as the Panthers could not muster a second goal before the intermission.
13:17 into the third, Florida took control of the game, with a truly “playoff caliber” goal. Shawn Matthias, who was buzzing the whole night, flew through the neutral zone to control a loose puck. He was able to get around his defender, Zidlicky, and found Scottie Upshall. Upshall dumped the puck in, and Versteeg flew behind the Devils net, beating Brodeur to the puck. He backhanded a pass to Upshall who never gave up on the play, and scored his first goal of the 2012 playoffs to give Florida a 2-0 lead.
“I just went to play the puck in the trapezoid and the puck was slowing down and it started bobbling,” Brodeur said. “I had position on him and he just came in out of nowhere and kind of batted it out. A little bit unlucky there.”
17:52 into the third, Gudbranson took a crucial roughing penalty, and with Brodeur pulled for the extra attacker, the Devils had a 6-on-4 advantage. It was the Panthers that took advantage, however. Tomas Kopecky blocked a pass from the left point, and was able to find the puck in the neutral zone. As he skated down towards the empty net, Ilya Kovalchuck hooked the forward, who had a clear path at the net. Kopecky was unable to score, but by rule was credited with a goal due to the penalty. The shorthanded goal at 19:26 iced the game, giving the Panthers the 3-0 victory.
- The Panthers will go for their first series win since the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night. Game time is still to be determined by the league.
- Jason Garrison sat out his second game, and Keaton Ellerby was also scratched from the game. Tyson Strachan made his NHL Playoff debut Saturday night.
- 19,513 attended the game, which is the largest playoff attendance (home or road) for a Panthers game in team history. It is also believed to be the most attended hockey game in South Florida history.
- Some fans threw rats onto the ice after goals, prompting both Kris Versteeg and Kevin Dineen to plea with the fans during the post game interviews. Dineen blamed Devils fans for the rats, but urged all fans to be smart. The Panthers also remind fans during the games that any object thrown onto the ice during a game could result in a penalty assessed to the home team. They also have videos that state: “Anyone who throws objects onto the ice will be immediately ejected and subject to arrest.”
- Brodeur blamed the Panthers organization for the rats, saying ” they must give them the rats. There’s no way they being that many.” The Panthers do sell the rats in the team store for $5, but have never given them away to fans.