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Devils Hold Off Panthers 3-2 In Game 1

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers

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#3  vs.  #6
New Jersey leads series, 1-0
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The New Jersey Devils may have had a few disturbing flashbacks Friday night, but they made sure to not let a 3-0 lead against the Florida Panthers slip away again.

Dainius Zubrus and Ryan Carter scored 45 seconds apart to cap the Devils' three-goal first-period lead and New Jersey held on to beat the Panthers 3-2 Friday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

The game followed the pattern of the teams' first regular-season meeting in November when the Devils led 3-0 after 20 minutes before the Panthers scored twice in the second and third periods to win 4-3.

Florida again scored twice in the second period on Friday night, but the Devils shut the door in the third.

"That was so long ago, I barely remember," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're at a different point in the season. I feel very comfortable with our ability to play with the lead much more than I did then."

Patrik Elias had the first goal for the Devils, who spoiled the Panthers' return to the playoffs after a 12-year absence. Martin Brodeur made 24 saves to record his 100th playoff victory -- and also picked up an assist.

DeBoer won his first playoff game as a coach against his former team and his successor, Kevin Dineen.

"That's great for him," Brodeur said. "I'm sure he'll get lots more than me if he coaches like that. It's kind of nice to be able to talk these things. It means we were successful that night."

Game 2 will be Sunday at the BankAtlantic Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

Sean Bergenheim and Kris Versteeg scored for the Panthers, who dominated the second period but were unable to overcome a slow start. Mikael Samuelsson had two assists for Florida and Jose Theodore made 35 saves.

"For the second and third period, I thought we played our game," Versteeg said. "Maybe shaking the rust in the first. Obviously it's tough to get out of a 3-0 hole against that team. We can take the confidence we had from the last two periods and have it going into Game 2."

Florida was playing its first playoff game since April 20, 2000, when the Devils completed a four-game sweep of their first-round series with a 4-1 victory in Sunrise on the way to the Stanley Cup. There was a lot of buzz in the stands, with fans waving red towels they were handed when they walked in and a few rats being tossed after both Florida goals.

"We loved every second of it," Versteeg said. "It's too bad we couldn't get them a win tonight. We look forward to trying to get them a win on Sunday."

New Jersey set a franchise playoff record for most shots in a period by outshooting Florida 26-9 in the first 20 minutes. The Panthers didn't give up more than 21 shots in any period during the regular season.

The damage could have been worse were it not for the play of Theodore, who made a handful of outstanding saves.

"Obviously in the playoffs you think it's more defensive, but they've got experience, they came out ready," Theodore said. "For myself, I don't remember the last time I had 26 shots in a period. I was just trying to give my team a chance to win and make every save, but obviously they kept coming pretty hard."

The Panthers got off the first two shots of the game before New Jersey took over. By the time there was 15 minutes left in the first period, New Jersey was outshooting Florida 9-3.

"We were ready," DeBoer said. "We had a tough week of practice. We came off a real good run to end the season. The guys felt good about our game. That's how you want to start the first period of the playoffs."

Elias, who earlier was stopped on a breakaway, opened the scoring at 6:31 when he was left alone on the right side of the net. Elias took a cross-ice pass from Zubrus and then deked to his forehand and backhand before Theodore finally went down to the ice. Elias then moved back and flipped a shot over Theodore from a sharp angle.

Zubrus made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 14:11 with Shawn Matthias serving a double-minor on a questionable high-sticking call. Matthias was called after a hit on defenseman Andy Greene on which it appeared Greene was hit in the face by his own stick.

"Unfortunately, you hit a guy with your shoulder and he hits himself in the head with the stick and you end up killing a four-minute penalty on that kind of a situation," Dineen said. "It caught us all off guard. That was part of our game plan was to be a physical team and when it happens right in front of your bench, it caught us all off-guard."

Zubrus scored when Brodeur's long outlet pass to David Clarkson caught the Panthers in a line change. Zubrus came in alone and beat Theodore with a wrist shot low to the stick side.

"Marty is Marty," Zubrus said. "His head is up and he sees what's going on and fires it right up and right on Clarky's tape. It didn't take that much from where Marty touched the puck to where I shot the puck.  It's a great heads-up play by him and by Clarky to give me that scoring chance."

Carter, who played seven games for Florida this season before being claimed off waivers by New Jersey in late October, made it 3-0 at 14:56 scored after stealing the puck in the neutral zone. He came in alone on Theodore after getting past Ed Jovanovski at the blue line and scored on a wrister from the lower right circle.

Bergenheim began Florida's comeback at 7:44 of the second with his 10th goal in 17 career playoff games. After taking a pass from Marcel Goc right before the Devils blue line, Bergenheim skated around defenseman Anton Volchenkov, brought the puck to his forehand and fired a quick wrist shot that beat Brodeur high to the blocker side.

"That was a great goal by Bergy," Versteeg said. "We fed off that. We had a ton of chances in the second to really get back into it, not too many in the third. We played pretty good for the second and third period, but we've got to find 60 minutes here and be ready."

Versteeg, who had five goals in the teams' four regular-season meetings, made it 3-2 at 15:42 of the second with a power-play goal. He took a pass from Samuelsson behind the net, maneuvered to the front and put the puck in off Brodeur's leg while being taken down by Volchenkov in the crease.

Zach Parise had a great chance to add to the lead midway through the third period when he came in alone, but Theodore stopped his backhander.

The Panthers, meanwhile, kept pushing but couldn't get the equalizer.

"It's just Game 1," said Panthers center John Madden, who was facing the team with which he won the Stanley Cup twice. "Why can't we come back and win? It's happened lots of times in the history of hockey. It's not as big as everybody is making it out to be. It's a matter of  getting your rest, figuring out what works and what doesn't work and  coming back with a better effort."
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