SUNRISE, Fla. — Somehow, it just seems fitting that Stephen Weiss would have the starring role when the Florida Panthers recorded their first-ever postseason victory at the BankAtlantic Center.
Weiss, a 10-year veteran appearing in the playoffs for the first time in his career, scored a pair of power-play goals and the Panthers recorded their first postseason victory in almost 15 years, beating the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Sunday to even their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
"I think everybody is excited about Weisser," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's a little of the identity of our team, a guy that has been here the longest, a little bit of the face of the franchise from a players' perspective. He wasn't happy with Game 1, with the way it went for him and instead of chirping about it he went out and did something about it."
Weiss recorded the fastest goal in Florida playoff history when he opened the scoring just 23 seconds in. The goal was the fastest in any period in Panthers' postseason history and the fastest power-play goal in the NHL playoffs since 1987.
It gave the Panthers the fast start they wanted after falling behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 1 on their way to a 3-2 loss. This time, it was the Panthers who led 3-0 before holding on.
"It's obviously huge," Weiss said. "They got it on us last game and that was enough for them. And we got the same jump on them tonight and it turned out to be enough for us. So it seems to be important."
Marcel Goc added a goal and an assist for Florida, which had lost nine consecutive playoff games since beating the New York Rangers 3-0 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 17, 1997.
That game was played at the Miami Arena. The Panthers moved into their new building two seasons later.
The Panthers weren't thinking in those historical terms, however. Maybe a bigger issue was avoiding falling behind 2-0 in the series against New Jersey, which is 10-0 all time in the playoffs when winning the first two games.
"It's huge, especially losing the first game," Weiss said. "A lot of pressure was on us tonight to make sure we get that win. We were able to do that. That's huge heading into their building."
Jose Theodore stopped 23 shots for the Panthers, and came up with a clutch save with 2:23 left on Zach Parise's redirect from the front of the net.
Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for New Jersey. Martin Brodeur, who recorded his 100th career playoff victory in Game 1, made 20 saves for New Jersey while suffering his first loss in six playoff games against Florida.
Game 3 will be played Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.
"I think we would have taken a split coming down here," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "There's no easy matchups in the NHL playoffs. I don't think anyone expected they were going beat anyone in four. We got a split and now we face them at home."
Just 11 seconds into the game, the Panthers went on the power play when defenseman Andy Greene tripped Goc as he was skating to the front of the net to put himself in position to receive a pass.
After Florida controlled the faceoff, Kris Versteeg passed the puck back to the left point to Mikael Samuelsson, who fired a wrist shot while three players fought for position in front of the net.
Brodeur made the pad save, but the puck went directly to Weiss, who had an easy tap-in.
"We wanted to make sure we had a good start," Brodeur said, "and we got a bad break on a penalty early on and they scored and they got the momentum off of that."
Weiss' second goal came at 1:12 of the second period, when the Panthers had a two-man advantage. Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson both were sent to the box with 17 seconds left in the first period for their hit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson, with Ponikarovsky called for high-sticking and Clarkson for charging.
Weiss scored on another rebound after Jason Garrison's slap shot from the top of the right circle bounced off Goc in front of the net.
"Nice to get the monkey off your back," Weiss said. "Couple of tap-ins don't hurt, either. That's a great job by Sammy getting the puck to the net on the first one and anytime you get a 5-on-3, you want to capitalize and we were able to do that."
With the two power-play goals, Florida is 3-for-7 with the man advantage in the series against a New Jersey penalty-killing unit that set a modern-era record with an 89.6 success rate.
"Special teams were the difference in the first two periods," DeBoer said. "They got two power-play goals [and] put us in a hole. I thought they were the hungrier team the first two periods. You can't play 20 minutes in the playoffs and expect to win."
Goc made it 3-0 at 14:39 of the second when he beat Brodeur with a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle. Brodeur got a piece of Goc's shot, but the puck trickled in.
Zajac got New Jersey on the board 48 seconds into the third period after Greene poked a loose puck at the blue line and he got behind Gudbranson. Zajac beat Theodore with a close-range shot through the legs.
Kovalchuk scored 1:14 later after Florida turned the puck over in its end. Adam Henrique stopped Mike Weaver's clearing attempt at the half-board and fired a centering pass that Kovalchuk tipped in with one hand on his stick.
"We gave them a good push in the third, but it wasn't enough," Kovalchuk said. "We all liked the way we played in the third period, so we just have to keep playing the same way."
Scottie Upshall almost added to the Florida lead with six minutes left with a nifty redirection of a Garrison pass, but Brodeur sprawled out to make the save. Tomas Fleischmann added an empty-net tally in the game’s final second after blocking a Kovalchuk shot.
A few minutes earlier, Kovalchuk had missed a one-timer from close range when the puck went off the end of his stick.
The Devils ended up with a 25-24 shot advantage as the series shifts to New Jersey.
"We played a really solid game," Theodore said. "We came hard, we got a huge first goal right away to kind of take that pressure off us a little bit. It was a good team effort tonight."