NEWARK, NJ (AP) - Travis Zajac scored at 5:39 of overtime and the New Jersey Devils avoided elimination and sent yet another Eastern Conference first-round series to a seventh game with a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Steve Bernier and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored and Martin Brodeur made 14 saves for New Jersey, which squandered a two-goal lead and had fans dreading another first-round playoff exit until Zajac scored from the right hand circle.
"Probably one of their best games, certainly in this series. It's their best game in this series. They had a heck of a lot of desperation and they pushed hard and that's the difference."
- Head coach Kevin Dineen.
1. Devil Of A First: Florida new that New Jersey was going to come out strong to Game 6. Trailing in the Best-of-7 Series and backs to the walls, that's exactly what they did. Feeding off a boisterous home crowd in the early going, the Devils recorded 13 shots to the Panthers six in the opening 20 minutes. Despite some missed scoring chances for the Cats, New Jersey held the majority of the puck possession in the Florida zone. The Panthers almost got to the period at goose eggs but former Panther Steve Bernier changed that with 3:23 left on the clock as he scored off a rebound from a sharp angle, beating Scott Clemmensen five-hole. Clemmensen is making his second start of the series after Jose Theodore couldn't go.
2. Tying It Up: Things got worse before they got better for the Panthers. 2:25 into the second period Tomas Kopecky went off for high-sticking. The penalty kill units did their jobs for 1:56 of that penalty but Ilya Kovalchuk snuck down from his position at the point and Travis Zajac found him beautifully for the one-timer into the open net. Looking for their first shot of the period, the Panthers did better than that as they scored on it 7:05 into the frame. The play was set up by a nice effort by Stephen Weiss up the left wing. With a Devils defender draped all over him, he worked his way to just above the goal line and found a wide open Kris Versteeg in the slot. The forward took a couple of strides before firing his third of the playoffs past Martin Brodeur. The Panthers then knotted it on officially their second shot (really was third shot) 5:45 later. Florida rushed up the ice on a 4-on-2 break. Tyson Strachan let go a rip that Brodeur got a piece of and the puck trickled wide. Sean Bergenheim was johnny on the spot as he collecte the puck and tucked it into the wide open net for the equalizer. The teams headed to the locker room knotted at two with twenty minutes left to play.
3. Forcing Seven: Neither team could get the offensive momentum in the third period despite three power play chances (one for Florida). The teams combined for nine shots on goal (six for New Jersey). Both netminders did have to make a great save in the final period of regulation with Clemmensen making a tough save with 11 minutes left in the period. Brodeur on the flip side came out of his net and stopped a Mikael Samuelsson shot on the rush with his arm with about three minutes left in regulation. The teams would play their first overtime of the post-season and it ended 5:39 in. After Florida failed to get anything substantial on a rush, the Devils slightly caught Mike Weaver on a pinch in the defensive zone. They worked their way back on a 3-on-2 and Kovalchuk slid the puck to Zajac and the forward snapped a low shot past Clemmensen for the game-winner on the Devils 42nd shot of the game. The victory means a Game 7 for the teams on Thursday.
Memorable twitter posts from the game.
@edugatr: Bring on game 7! Its gonna rain rats on Thursday! #FlaPanthers
@teena_797: I wanted Fla. Panthers to win. Now gotta wait for Game 7.#flapanthers
@CarsonJanes: #FLAPanthers can't finish the series :(
@JessilynMorales: All I want on Thursday is for the #FlaPanthers to fight for it. For the team. For the fans. #BecauseItsTheCup #BecauseItsOURTime
@JagsFan93: No matter what happens on Thursday, I am so happy with the season our #FlaPanthers have put on. There are so many good things to come.
Memorable fan posts from the game.
Mike Gold: 16 SOG don't win games, boys. Pick up the offense just a bit. Geez. Nice Job Clemmy, keeping us in this thing...!!! My rats off to ya.
Bryan Gaminara: Spoiled my bday... come on cats, Bring your hunger and shut them down at home! I believe RED!!!
Jay Martenz: Come on florida! You can do it!
Sandi Keller: Wanted to see rats on Jersey ice but big win at home!
Rosa Ruiz: Am Sad but at lease that panthers still alive for game seven at home, Go Panthers.
1. With how many times Florida and New Jersey have played past regulation this season, it's amazing that the first overtime game came six games in. Florida had played in 25 overtime/shootout games (30.5%) while the Devils played in 22 games (26.8%). It was the latest in a series this post-season that saw it's first overtime (Nashville/Detroit also did not play in overtime but series ended in five).
3. It's a stat no more. In the first five games of the series, a team has scored the first three goals of the contest. New Jersey almost accomplished the feat once again, scoring the first two goals of the game but Kris Versteeg put an end to that on a nice play in the second period to make it a 2-1 game.
4. The Panthers were just four seconds away from killing off the game's first penalty but Ilya Kovalchuk made sure that didn't happen as he netted his third of the post-season with just four seconds left on a Tomas Kopecky high-sticking penalty in the second period.
26. It was a huge disparity in shots in favor of the Devils as they put 42 on goalie Scott Clemmensen. On the other end, Florida was only able to manage 16 as the Devils controlled a lot of the play.
50. Florida was credited with four shots on goal in the second period. They scored on two of them. In fact, according to the officials, they scored on their first two shots of the period, tying the game at two after two.
Beautifully found Kovalchuk to give the Devils a 2-0 lead and then scored the overtime game-winner to force a Game 7.
One game. 60 minutes if not more. That's all that is left for one of the teams in the do or die situation. One team will be moving on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals while another will have to wait another summer to play hockey again. Due to their Division championship that brings a higher seed, the Panthers will host Game 7 on Thursday. Expect everything to be left out on the ice for these two teams that want to be still playing for Lord Stanley's Cup.