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Panthers Take 2-1 Series Lead With Comeback Win

by Mike G. Morreale / Florida Panthers

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#3  vs.  #6
Florida leads series, 2-1
NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen referred to his team's improbable 4-3 comeback victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal as a "lesson in perseverance."
"It just proves that no matter if momentum is with you or against you, you just have to stay with it," the 34-year-old Clemmensen said.
Boy, did the Panthers ever stay with it on Tuesday at Prudential Center. They not only rallied from a 3-0 deficit behind four answered goals, but received lights-out goaltending from Clemmensen after he was called upon to replace starter Jose Theodore 6:16 into the first period. The former New Jersey netminder, whose only previous playoff experience came in a relief stint for Martin Brodeur six years ago, stopped 19 shots in recording the first postseason triumph of his career.
For the third straight game, the team that built a seemingly-insurmountable 3-0 lead could only watch in stunned disbelief as its opponent mounted a furious comeback. Only this time, the team on the comeback trail not only took the lead, but was able to seal the deal.
Sean Bergenheim, Jason Garrison, Mike Weaver and Brian Campbell scored the goals for the pesky Panthers, who will now look to take a 3-1 lead in this best-of-7 series on Thursday.
"My playoff experience has all been with the Devils," Clemmensen said.  "Marty has been the guy to carry the load and I would go in when something bad happened. But Florida is unique in that I have always felt I've been a contributor all year long. I felt like we would need all the guys on the roster throughout the regular season and I felt like one of those guys."
Not only was Theodore pulled from the game, but Brodeur was also yanked 2:18 into the second in favor of Johan Hedberg after allowing three goals on 12 shots.
"This won't affect Marty; just look at his track record and his mentality," Clemmensen said. "In the playoffs, there will be ups and downs. Goalies will get changed and thrown in and thrown out. It's just part of the process … no team is going to win 16 in a row and walk through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and hoist it in the end."
The Devils took a three-goal lead while outshooting the Panthers, 6-1, in the opening 6:16 of the first. That's when the visitors began clawing their way back, scoring twice while outshooting the Devils, 9-1, over the final 13:44 to ultimately pull within 3-2.
Both Florida goals with less than four minutes remaining in the first were scored on the power play. The Panthers, in fact, are now 6-for-10 with the man advantage in this series.
"I don't have an answer with regard to what has gone wrong with the penalty kill," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "The easy answer is you have to give credit to Florida for executing in our end. We need to figure it out and figure it out fast."
The Devils entered this series with a penalty-killing unit that ranked first during the regular season with a post-expansion NHL record 89.6 percent efficiency. On top of that, they also led the League with 15 shorthanded goals in the regular season.
Bergenheim began the rally for the Panthers when he connected for his second goal of the playoffs off a rising wrist shot from the left circle that beat Brodeur high to the long side at the 16:11 mark. Scottie Upshall took a long shot from center ice that Brodeur stopped but Bergenheim followed up in the circle.
"It wasn't a set play … the rebound just came nicely for me," Bergenheim said.
The Panthers pulled to within 3-2 with just 7.4 seconds remaining in the first when Garrison scored off a slap shot from the point.
In the second, defenseman Weaver pulled his team into a 3-3 tie 2:18 into the period when his harmless-looking wrist shot from the left point slipped underneath Brodeur. That's when DeBoer replaced Brodeur with Hedberg. The last time Brodeur was pulled from a playoff game was in a 6-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinal.
"I was just trying to get the puck at the net … it wouldn't have gone in if we didn't have guys driving the net," Weaver said. "With every goal, it's a whole team package here. Everybody is working hard for that goal."
Just 4:16 after Weaver's tying goal, and with the Panthers on another power-play, Campbell unleashed a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Hedberg to the long side to give the Panthers a 4-3 lead. The goal not only marked the first time this season that the Devils allowed three power-play goals in a game, but also the most power-play goals allowed by the Devils in a home playoff game.
"I don't have an explanation [for losing a 3-0 lead]," DeBoer said. "I think we've got to learn as a group how to play in that situation. It starts with not taking penalties. We've been burned in two games now taking penalties. Their power play has been the difference."
The Devils thought they had evened the score with 1:24 left in the second when Marek Zidlicky's point shot entered the cage. But referee Tim Peel waved off the goal after determining that Steve Bernier made incidental contact with Clemmensen.
"In my 11 years as a pro, that's the first goal I ever had called back," Clemmensen said. "That includes the AHL and the NHL. I never once had a goal called back, and it was the right call. I thought the guy interfered with me."
Said DeBoer: "I watched the [replay] twice … it was marginal."
The Devils scored early and often on Theodore, who allowed three goals on six shots before being replaced by Clemmensen. Zach Parise gathered a rebound in the slot and fired a wrist shot home for his first of the playoffs just 33 seconds into the contest for a 1-0 lead.
Stephen Gionta would extend the lead to two with his first of the postseason at the 3:27 mark when he deflected a shot from the right point by Zidlicky. Patrik Elias then connect on the power play less than three minutes later, taking a pass from Parise just outside the right post before lofting a shot over a fallen Theodore into the far corner.
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