Through the first fifteen minutes of Game 3, the New Jersey Devils looked like they were going to run the Florida Panthers out of town — scoring three times (Zach Parise, Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias) on six shots as they sent Jose Theodore to an early exit. The problem for them was that NHL games are 60 minutes long; ex-Devil Scott Clemmensen entered the Panthers crease and his former teammate Elias took a self-admitted silly penalty (and voluntarily accepted the blame for the loss) which started to tilt the Prudential Center ice in Florida’s favor. “It’s just a stupid play by me. Stupid, totally uncalled for,” said Elias, “wrong time, (and it) got the momentum going for them. A couple of really bad decisions by me today and it cost us this hockey game.”
The Devils’ penalty-killers set a modern record during the season for the best percentage ever, but that feat seemed a lifetime ago as the Panthers tallied three PP goals in three attempts during Game 3. In the series, they are clicking at an astronomical 60% (6-for-10)) which seems almost video-game like considering New Jersey’s regular season prowess for killing penalties; in 82 games they surrendered 27 power play goals. “The bottom line for me on those first two penalties – Sal’s (Bryce Salvador) and Patrik’s – we can’t put ourselves in that position,” said Devils coach Pete DeBoer.
Sean (Mr.April) Bergenheim got the Cats on the board with Elias in the penalty box late in the first period, thanks in part to a slight error by Martin Brodeur. The Devils netminder directed Scottie Upshall’s long shot towards his defenseman, Anton Volchenkov, but the puck skittered past and right to Bergenheim who wired a shot over Brodeur’s shoulder and under the crossbar. “I wanted to give it to my defenseman and he got flat-footed there and Bergenheim was coming with a lot of speed,” Brodeur said. “It was a controlled rebound. I wanted to put it exactly there and most of the time it goes right on their stick and they’re able to clear it right away instead of going to get it in the corner.”
A Jason Garrison PP goal with 7.4 left in the first and a Mike Weaver goal on Florida’s second shot of the second period evened the game at three and Brodeur was sent to the bench in favor of Johan Hedberg. “At that point, I have to do my job and try to get a momentum shift back in our direction,” explained DeBoer, “so I chose to do it that way.”
Hedberg gave up the eventual game-winner (also on the PP) to Brian Campbell almost four minutes after he entered the game, and was disappointed he couldn’t make more of a difference in his first postseason appearance since 2007 with Atlanta. “We have to regroup; we’re down in this series 2-1, but it’s definitely not over,” said Hedberg. “We have to come in tomorrow and have a good day of work.”
So how do the Devils get back in the series? Back to basics, hard work, and staying out of the penalty box. Because Florida’s power play has shown how lethal they are and that they have solved whatever tricks that New Jersey were pulling during the regular season. “They know how to expose us and they got some breaks today,” Brodeur said. “We’d love to be able to dominate the way we dominated in the regular season. That was a big part of our game and when something is lacking. You see the result.” Ryan Carter had a simple way to counteract the Panthers’ lethal man-advantage, “The best way to alleviate that problem is stay out of the penalty box.”