NEWARK, N.J. -- It was a sequence even New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer couldn't draw up. Then again, why bother, when you have players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac on your roster.
It happened Tuesday night with over five minutes gone in overtime of Game 6 when Parise broke up a two-on-one breakout by the Panthers, getting his stick in on Stephen Weiss at the last second, before ultimately chipping the puck to Kovalchuk along the boards at center ice.
Kovalchuk carried the puck over the Florida blue line, drew two defenders to him and then zipped a pass to Zajac on his left for a quick shot from the left circle that beat Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen under the pads to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
"It's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players this time of year and, in Game 6, ours were," DeBoer said. "Parise with the backcheck, Marty [Brodeur] with the save, Kovy with the great pass and Travis with the finish. I don't think there's any secret formula there, the guys know that and we've got to do it again."
So after 10 seasons of producing incredible regular-season statistics, Kovalchuk will finally get an opportunity to experience a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Is he excited? You bet.
"It's great," Kovalchuk said. "This is going to be my first Game 7 ever. It's exciting. I'm sure the building will be loud, they'll be going, but we have to do the same thing. If we're going to forecheck well, we can't give them a lot of turnovers in the second period. We have to be strong."
Unlike Kovalchuk, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be playing in his 10th career Game 7. He sports a 5-4 record in such contests and is 11-12 in elimination games over this 18-season career.
"I guess the preparation may be a little different for a Game 7, but when you get into the game, it's still a hockey game," Brodeur said. "It's an exciting time."
While the Devils did outshoot (42-16) and outhit (28-27) the Panthers in Game 6, they also turned the puck over 15 times. The Panthers finished the game with eight giveaways. DeBoer was also pleased with the fact his team took just one minor penalty in the game.
Kovalchuk believes both teams will be feeling the heat on Thursday, and not just because they'll be in the Sunshine State. The team scoring first has won five of the six games.
"The pressure is on," Kovalchuk said. "What are you talking about? It's Game 7, so it's anybody's game now. We just have to go out there and play well."
Kovalchuk now has three goals and five points in six playoff games.
DeBoer can sense, with each passing game, that Kovalchuk is gaining more confidence.
"Kovy rose to the occasion and we've seen that all year in him … he's been on board and willing to do what it takes," DeBoer told the media on Wednesday afternoon. "He has off-nights once in a while, but very rarely two in a row and he follows it up with a big performance. That's what we got last night, but he'll have to replicate that again."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale