SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen’s goalie decision figures to be a lot easier for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.
Dineen never revealed his Game 1 starting goalie to the media until lineup sheets were distributed shortly before game time, but Jose Theodore figures to have earned another start after a stellar performance Friday.
The Panthers lost 3-2, but Theodore was the reason the score wasn’t more lopsided, as he stopped 35 of 38 shots.
Theodore was particularly impressive in the first period despite allowing three goals. New Jersey peppered him with 26 shots, a franchise playoff record and the highest first-period total in the NHL playoffs since 1997 when Philadelphia recorded 28 shots against Pittsburgh.
“I thought he was really good in the first period,” Dineen said after the game. “You give up three goals in the first period and you’re like, boy, that’s something you’re always questioning about a goalie, but if he doesn’t play the way he did, we’re in trouble. [It was] a solid night for our goaltender.”
Theodore, who got the nod for Game 1 over backup Scott Clemmensen, entered the playoffs having given up nine goals in his previous two starts.
He also had given up a soft goal in each of those games, a 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg and a 4-2 loss at Washington.
But none of the three goals Friday could be pinned on him.
“When you have that many shots in the first period and you make a couple of saves right away, I felt pretty good, to be honest,” Theodore said. “During the playoffs, it’s all about winning and losing. We lost the game, so we’ve just got to bounce back. It’s the best I felt [Friday night], let’s say, the last week or so.”
Before Patrik Elias opened the scoring at 6:31, Theodore had stopped him on a breakaway after the Panthers were caught in a bad line change.
Theodore also stopped Zach Parise on a breakaway midway through the third period to keep the Panthers within a goal after they had scored twice in the second period to pull to within 3-2.
“We created a lot of offense, if it wasn’t for Jose, it could have been a lot different,” said Martin Brodeur, who recorded his 100th playoff victory to join Patrick Roy as the only goalies to reach triple digits. “He played unbelievable. He made some big saves and, even in the third stopping Zach on the breakaway, kept them in the game.”
Theodore’s performance was a far cry from his last playoff outing.
That came in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the top-seeded Washington Capitals and eighth-seeded Montreal. After the Canadiens had taken Game 1, 3-2 in overtime, Theodore was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau after allowing two goals on the first two shots.
Theodore didn’t play again as Montreal upset the Capitals in seven games.
The game Friday marked Theodore’s 52nd career playoff appearance, and it will go down as one of his best.
Devils forward Dainius Zubrus finished with a goal and an assist, but was impressed with the performance of his former Montreal teammate.
“He weathered the storm,” Zubrus said, “and he kept them in the game.”