SUNRISE, Fla. — Only one player had less ice time than Ryan Carter in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between New Jersey and Florida.
But Carter skated long enough for some serious payback.
The little-used 28-year-old center ended up with the game-winning goal against his former team when he scored with 5:04 left in the first period to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.
Carter started the season with Florida and played seven games before he was waived with the idea of reassigning him to San Antonio of the AHL. Needing depth at center, the Devils claimed him off waivers.
Little did the Panthers know he would come back to haunt them in their first playoff game since 2000.
Carter, who played 6:56 in his third game at the BankAtlantic Center since joining the Devils, focused more on the significance of his goal than the opponent.
“Yeah, I am past that,” said Carter, who topped only teammate Stephen Gionta in ice time Friday. “The first couple of games back here maybe there were some extra feelings like that. Now, Jersey is my team and I just want to find a way to help them win. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s not about sticking it to somebody else, it’s about helping our team.”
Carter, who went pointless for Florida before recording four goals and four assists in 65 games with New Jersey, wasn’t among the forwards the Panthers figured they had to stop coming into the series.
But less than a minute after Dainius Zubrus scored to make it 2-0 for New Jersey, Carter stole the puck from Sean Bergenheim in the neutral zone and then took advantage of a flat-footed Ed Jovanovski at the blue line.
Carter chipped the puck off the boards, skated around Jovanovski to retrieve it and skated in alone on the right side. He beat Jose Theodore with a quick wrist shot to the far side.
“It was a controlled forecheck,” Carter said. “They had two guys swinging to that left wall, so that made it easy to check both of them. I think they had a misread on who was going where, so that exposed the puck a little bit. I chipped it by one guy and found myself in a two-on-one and just shot it.”
The goal came on a shift that lasted exactly 13 seconds for Carter.
In fact, through the first two periods, Carter got only 3:37 of ice time. He got almost twice that much in the third period as coach Peter DeBoer turned to his fourth line — Carter, Gionta and Steve Bernier, another former Panther — to help protect the 3-2 lead.
“The fourth line was big for us,” DeBoer said. “The game-winning goal and five or six critical shifts in the third period when our guys were starting to get fatigued. We talked between the second and third about the importance of those guys giving us some quality shifts and I thought they were great.”
Carter’s goal was his third in 21 career playoff games. The other two came with Anaheim in 2009.
“To get a chance to get a goal and chip in, it’s definitely huge,” Carter said. “Tonight it turned out to be the difference-maker. Anytime you can contribute that’s big. That’s your job.”