DEVILS at PANTHERS
(Best-of-seven series tied, 3-3)
TV: NHLN-US, NBCSN (JIP), TSN, RDSI, MSG PLUS (HD), FS-F
Big Story: By virtue of winning the Southeast Division, the Panthers secured home ice in the event their first-round series against the Devils went the distance, and now that's exactly where we stand in a series that has been virtually even in many ways. Each team has scored 15 goals and won once in its opponent's rink. New Jersey is aiming to win its first postseason series since the opening round in 2007, while Florida looks to advance past the first round since going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.
Devils: Travis Zajac scored his third goal of the playoffs 5:39 into overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday and extend the series. It marked New Jersey's first overtime victory in the playoffs since April 19, 2009, when Zajac also struck to give his team a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of a series they would ultimately lose in seven games.
In addition to Zajac, Steve Bernier and Ilya Kovalchuk also connected on Tuesday in the victory. Martin Brodeur made 14 saves for the Devils, who squandered a two-goal lead before forcing a deciding game in overtime. The Devils, who will be playing their 14th Game 7 in team history, outshot the Panthers 42-16. The organization is 6-7 in Game 7s, including 3-5 on the road. The club won their last road Game 7 in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals in Ottawa.
Panthers: To their credit, the Panthers did rally from a two-goal deficit in the second period to square Game 6 at 2-2 on goals by Kris Versteeg at 7:05 and Sean Bergenheim at 12:49. Scott Clemmensen turned aside a career-high 39 shots in his second career playoff start. Florida will need to replicate the effort they put forth in Game 5 in a 3-0 victory if they are to advance in the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
"When you play as much defense as we had to, it tends to wear you down," coach Kevin Dineen said. "Our quality chances came in spurts. They put a lot of pressure in our zone. That was probably their best game in this series. They had a heck of a lot of desperation and pushed us."
Who's Hot: Versteeg has two goals and three points in his past two playoff games and three goals and five points in the series. … Zajac has three goals and a team-leading six points for the Devils in the series.
Injury Report: The Panthers are without forwards Matt Bradley (concussion) and Jack Skille (shoulder). Defenseman Jason Garrison (lower body) and goalie Jose Theodore (knee) took part in an optional practice Wednesday. Garrison has missed the last three games while Theodore was scratched from Game 6 after a shutout performance the previous game. … The Devils are without center Jacob Josefson (left wrist) and defenseman Henrik Tallinder (blood clot).
Stat Pack: In addition to notching their first overtime win to avoid elimination and earning their first playoff OT win at Prudential Center, the Devils also won for the first time when facing elimination in Newark, improving to 5-8 overall in home playoff games since moving to The Rock. … Brodeur is 5-4 in Game 7 matchups over his career with his 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final being his most memorable. After Tuesday's 3-2 overtime victory, Brodeur is now 11-12 in elimination games in the playoffs. ... Brodeur, who has 102 career playoff victories, is just 13-21 in overtime in postseason play.
Puck Drop: While there's no question about Brodeur getting the call for New Jersey, it remains to be seen which goalie Florida will play with its season on the line. Dineen indicated on Wednesday that if Theodore is available, he should expect to find himself between the pipes.
"I've been playing this game all series long who we're going to start, and the truth of the matter is there's a question mark because we have trust in both our goalies," he said. "But Theo has been our go-to guy, and if he's available, he'll be the one running, I think."