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Panthers rally to beat Devils in OT

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The stakes weren't nearly as high, but Saturday's game between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers looked awfully similar to their previous meeting at BB&T Center.

Except the outcome.

Shawn Matthias tied the game by scoring his second goal with 27 seconds remaining in regulation, and Dmitry Kulikov scored his first goal of the season at 1:43 of overtime to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory.

The game ended with the same score as Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when the Devils won in double overtime.

"It feels good getting that [goal] and getting that win," Matthias said. "It never gets old beating that team. I like beating those guys."

The Panthers had been 0-5 in games decided in overtime this season, along with a 2-1 shootout record.

Kulikov beat Martin Brodeur with a wrist shot from the wing after taking a cross-ice pass from Brian Campbell, who had stopped a New Jersey clearing attempt in the high slot.

It was Kulikov's first goal since Jan. 9, 2012, when he scored in a 2-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's good to get [that first goal] out of the way, and especially to get a win for the team it's even better," Kulikov said. "We're playing a rival and to battle back like that makes it special."

Matthias continued his torrid run for the Panthers, scoring his 10th and 11th goals in his past 16 games. By comparison, he had never scored more than 10 goals in the past three seasons despite playing at least 51 games each time.

Matthias also had two goals in Thursday's 5-4 shootout victory against the Buffalo Sabres.

"I've had my opportunities here, and it's up to me to take advantage of it," said Matthias, who moved from left wing to center after Stephen Weiss was lost for the season because of wrist surgery. "It feels good to capitalize on it."

Matthias' tying goal marked the second night in a row that the Devils squandered a lead in the standings in the final 30 seconds of regulation and left with one point instead of two. New Jersey allowed a goal with 15 seconds left Friday night before losing 5-4 in a shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With goaltender Jacob Markstrom on the bench for an extra attacker, Matthias tied the game when he fired into a wide-open net after the rebound of Scottie Upshall's backhander from the side bounced to the middle of the ice.

"You don't have an answer for it," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who coached the Panthers for three years before being fired at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season. "Sometimes it's a bounce, sometimes it's execution. We've gone months without getting scored on in that situation and when it rains, it pours. I don't have an answer for you, but we've got to find a way to get the job done."

Markstrom, making his sixth start in seven games, stopped 24 shots as the Panthers won for only the second time (2-16-4) in 22 games this season when they allowed the first goal.

Steve Bernier scored twice for the Devils, snapping a 13-game goal drought. His last goal had come March 2 in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Buffalo Sabres.

After playing for the Panthers in 2010-11, Bernier has five goals in 11 games [including playoffs] against his former team during the past two seasons.

Brodeur, playing on consecutive nights for the first time this season, stopped 27 shots. It was the first time in 16 games the Devils allowed more than 25 shots, a streak that included six overtime or shootout games.

Brodeur is 2-0-3 in five games since returning from a back injury.

The Devils have lost three in a row past regulation for the second time this season.

"I don't know if we're trying to play so simple and try to do no mistakes and the opposite happens," Bernier said. "We've been playing good three games this road trip. We've been playing fairly good for 60 minutes and we always find a way to get a goal against us the last minute."

The overtime loss helped the Devils increase their lead over the New York Rangers and New York Islanders for seventh place in the Eastern Conference to four points. New Jersey has 39 points; the Rangers and Islanders have 35.

The Rangers and Islanders both lost on Saturday in regulation.

"It's disappointing, but we keep getting points and that's the only thing positive about it," Brodeur said. "The teams that are around us, I don't think they won today, so that makes it a little easier to take. At one time, we're going to need to start winning hockey games here."

The Devils won the first meeting against the Panthers this season, 2-1 at New Jersey last Saturday. The teams will meet for the third and final time this season in Newark on April 20.

New Jersey played its third consecutive game without star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who hurt his shoulder against the Panthers on March 23. But defenseman Henrik Tallinder was back in action after missing 11 games with a lower-body injury.

The game was tied 1-1 heading into the third period before Bernier gave New Jersey the lead with a power-play goal at 7:57. With Matthias in the penalty box for hooking, Bernier scored when he tipped Tallinder's shot from the point while standing in front of Markstrom.

"I felt there was a lot of belief on our bench (after that Bernier) goal," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We kept putting pucks on net, and when you do that, good things happen."

Bernier opened the scoring 3:42 into the game after a turnover in the Panthers zone. Bernier got a stick on a pass by Kulikov and the puck went right to Devils center Stephen Gionta at the right faceoff dot. Gionta passed to the slot to Ryan Carter, who immediately backhanded a pass to Bernier to the right of the net for a backhanded redirection.

Matthias got lucky on his goal at 12:55 of the first when he scored on a power play. Jonathan Huberdeau's pass from the side to the front of the net went off the left skate of Matthias and past Brodeur.

Huberdeau finished with two assists and took over the NHL rookie scoring lead with 25 points, one more than Cory Conacher of the Lightning.

Florida outshot New Jersey 13-7 in a scoreless second period.

"I thought we battled," DeBoer said. "It was back-to-back. It wasn't pretty. We did some good stuff, but I think we've got to find another level here in the last 10-12 games. We're still searching for that.

"I liked our third period. I liked how we came out in the third. We came out to play to win the game and did what we had to do other than the last 30 seconds."

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