The last time these two teams played, the game became infamous within this season. The New Jersey Devils went up 3-0 in the first period. By almost all accounts, that's not a lead that should be blown. Yet, the Devils did exactly that as the Florida Panthers put up 2 goals each in the second and third periods to beat the Devils. To say it was a bitter end of a road trip would be putting it lightly.
Tonight, the Devils returned to Sunrise, the site of their massive collapse. Tonight, the tables were turned. The Panthers put up the game's first two goals, and the Devils controlled the second and third periods to eventually come back from the deficit. The Devils did not complete it in regulation. They came agonizingly close in the game's final minute, which would have been a masterstroke way to end the game and the back-to-back. Yet, it wasn't to be. Overtime was needed and as hectic as that was, it decided nothing. The shootout was necessary and the Devils succeeded there again to seal the 3-2 win.
Why were the Devils down to begin with? Easy: defensive mistakes. After the fourth line got rolled in the first period wherein Martin Brodeur made five saves in a row; Adam Larsson threw a puck into the center. Stephen Weiss picked it off, he had Kris Versteeg also in the slot, so a simple pass-and-shot was enough to make it unstoppable for Brodeur. It was a horrid error by Larsson after a horrid shift in the first period. The Devils didn't panic; and they came out better in the second period. At about the end of the Devils' third power play, a center-circle faceoff was won by the Devils and Henrik Tallinder had the puck. He moved up ice figuring he'd have space and cut in. What he didn't recognize was that Versteeg was coming right after him. The positioning of Tallinder's stick made him prone to a stick check. Versteeg smacked it, the puck came loose, Versteeg stormed ahead, and beat Brodeur for a shorthanded goal. Florida was up 2-0, Devils fans were feeling miserable, and I can't imagine the blueliners were feeling too good either.
The heartening aspect of the Devils' performance is that they didn't let either goal get them down. Just before a minute after Versteeg's second goal, the Devils responded. A pinch by Bryce Salvador helps keep a puck alive for Ilya Kovalchuk in the corner. He curls out, sees Zach Parise and Patrik Elias converging in the slot, fires a pass, and Elias slammed it home. It's 2-1, the Devils had some life, and they continued to pound Jose Theodore with shots on net. They got 16 on Theodore in the second period, but only one goal. The Adam Henrique line was buzzing through the first two periods and it seemed to me that they were due for a goal by the second intermission.
A tighter third period was played, but the Devils still enjoyed the better of play and possession. Halfway through the third, an equalizer was scored. Henrik Tallinder got the puck at the point from Kovalchuk and wound up for a shot. With a diving Panther in front of him, Tallinder pulled the shot wide. It bounced right off the boards and right to Parise at the right post. It was a tough angle, but Parise converted it and it's a tie-game. The action goes back and forth sans shots; but the Devils got a glorious chance with less than minute remaining. Kovalchuk rushed up ice, waited for help, and threaded a cross-ice pass to Mark Fayne. Fayne goes in and sees Petr Sykora on Theodore's flank. Fayne fired a perfect puck right at him and all Sykora had to do was get a piece of it. Unfortunately, Sykora got more than a piece, he got the whole puck, and so the puck went laterally past the post instead of into the empty net. Oh, what a wonderful ending that would have been; but no dice.
In OT, not satisfied with just one shot on net in the third, Florida enjoyed putting pressure on Brodeur, though the Devils did make some non-shooting attempts up-ice. Florida got 5 on net and Brodeur had to be big amid the crashing Panthers. Brodeur stayed big in the shootout, confidently denying Tomas Fleischmann and Versteeg. Kovalchuk and Elias converted to snag the win. The Devils certainly deserved a result and they got one.
Thinking about it now, it's not just a win over a top team in the East, but it's also revenge from the last Florida-New Jersey game. I never got the sense that the last game rattled the Devils' minds. Maybe it motivated them, instead? Either way, the Devils made a statement that a team's prior success isn't going to get into their heads in future games. They put Florida on the other end of blowing a lead; which had to have felt good. What's more, the Devils accomplished all of this after barely holding onto a lead against a desperate Tampa Bay team just last night. They didn't fade or get gassed; the Devils didn't throw in the towel after Versteeg's second goal. They fought back and were properly rewarded for it. Well done, Devils.
As usual, I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a point of view from the opposition's side, please check out Ryan Meier's recap at Litter Box Cats.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
They've Got the Power, They've Got the Touch: Join me in saying "Bravo" and other phrases of congratulations to the Devils' top line of Parise, Henrique, and Kovalchuk. The two wingers created the goals; all three combined for 9 out of New Jersey's 34 shots on net; Henrique was winning faceoffs (12-for-20); and they crushed their competition at evens. (Quite literally in the case of Kovalchuk, just ask Fleischmann.) They faced off against Florida's top line, and here's how the Corsi broke down for both.
New Jersey: Parise (+15), Henrique (+14), Kovalchuk (+19)
Florida: Fleischmann (-8), Weiss (-8), Versteeg (-7)
The Henrique line didn't just do well, they dominated tonight when it came to possession. They were constantly on the attack and they mostly defanged the dreaded Weiss line that has led Florida's attack all season. Amazing work not just to carry the team but to really help out in their own end. Weeks earlier, fans were calling for this line to be split up. Now, they're playing way too good to mess with them. Keep it up, guys.
Best Third Period In Weeks: The Devils were something wonderful in the third period. They allowed only one shot on net. Technically, it should have been two, but Fleischmann hit a post on an attempt. The Devils only generated 5 on net in response, they still maintained the better of possession as their Corsi jumped from +12 at the end of the second to +20 by the end of the third. Most importantly, they scored a goal and didn't give one up. It's been seemingly forever since the Devils didn't allow a third period goal; the last time they did that was on November 25 in a 1-0 win over the Islanders. This is an accomplishment that should not be unnoticed.
Poor Sykora: My sympathy goes out to Petr Sykora. He got Fayne's pass perfectly and he knew he only had to touch it to win the game in regulation. Instead, it sailed out wide. It's certainly frustrating. Hopefully, the team holding it out in overtime and winning in a shootout lessens his frustration. His miss ultimately didn't cost the Devils the win.
Martin Brodeur With a Good Performance: The only pucks that got past Martin Brodeur and into the net were off of stupid errors by defensemen. Fleischmann's shot did beat him in the third, but struck iron; so that's three if you want to be picky. Brodeur made a lot more than three big stops. He came up huge on Florida's 4 shots on net in overtime; and he didn't get faded when Florida was attacking the net directly (or in Marco Sturm's case, after Brodeur covered up the puck). He made several huge stops in the first period during the fourth line's abysmal shift and only a Larsson giveaway left him out to dry. In summary: Brodeur saw 26 shots, made 24 solid-to-great saves, and was perfect in the shootout. Brodeur was very good for the Devils tonight and I have no concerns on whichever game he plays in the next back-to-back set.
The Smelly Underbelly of the Devils Roster: The bottom two lines for the Devils were stinky tonight. In a game where the Devils finished +16 after overtime in Corsi, all six forwards were negative. The fourth line was limited in minutes and were just terrible from 5:20 to 4:50 left in the first, when Versteeg scored his first. 5 shots on goal, total possession by the Panthers, and the forwards did nothing to help out Bryce Salvador and Larsson. The goal was certainly Larsson's fault; but the fourth line did themselves no favors. We got cruel reminders that Cam Janssen isn't good at hockey, Tim Sestito's energy doesn't equate to defense, and Mattias Tedenby is useless in his own end of the rink (Aside: this is why he's on this line, he can't defend to save his life). Sure, they faced off with a Fleischmann, Mike Santorelli, and Matt Bradley - a mix of forwards; and they made those three Devils look like pylons.
The third line wasn't as shaky, but were essentially net negatives as the Ryan Carter line matched with the Shawn Matthias line, who finished the game as Florida's best Corsi values this evening. Eric Boulton didn't look too out of place in 11:23 of ice time and even had 3 shots on net to lead the line in shots. David Clarkson only had two inconsequential shots on net, though he can say he drew two penalties. Yet, they didn't really impose their will and ended up doing more defending than attacking. They didn't have a nightmare-inducing shift like the fourth line did; but they could do better.
Basically, the Devils' top two lines carried the team on offense and in possession. Even then, it took some time before the Patrik Elias line got going - possibly when they started seeing more of Jack Skille (check him for metaphorical tire treads, he got metaphorically run over on the ice tonight), Tomas Kopecky, and Sturm. Maybe that's how it should be given this roster, but it does put a lot of pressure on the top two lines. Tonight, it worked out well. Other nights, maybe not. Once Travis Zajac is back in the lineup and in form, the Devils will have better balance.
The Power Play Gave Up a SHG So What Else Is New: The Devils got four power plays and four shots on net. They weren't great power plays, the shots weren't bad, but I was left unmoved by either of them. Of course, Devils fans will rightfully focus on how the Devils managed to give up another shorthanded goal.
Truthfully, you can't place this SHG on Adam Oates or anyone else in the Devils organization but Henrik Tallinder. He had the puck, he carelessly cut in the neutral zone unaware of his surroundings, and he got torched. It was not a systemic failure, just a big mistake by the puck carrier. It was like Michal Grabner's infamous shorthanded goal where he stickchecked the puck off Kovalchuk's stick and scored; only it was in the neutral zone and not the slot. Had Tallinder skated outside or dumped it in or even skated back and let time run out to 5-on-5, there wouldn't have been a goal.
I will say we got a look at what the power play would look like without Parise or Kovalchuk on their fourth opportunity. There was a tussle after Kovalchuk hit Fleischmann hard and the refs sent them to the box with matching roughing minors on both sides. Weiss hooked down Clarkson later and the PP was on. It wasn't pretty. The Devils tried to go dump-and-chase for the most part. There was one time where they skated it in, and it led to their lone shot on net. Yet, it was near the end of the power play and so nothing could be built there. The PP didn't turn out too well tonight. After all, there was that SHG.
Best PK in the League is Back: With the score tied 2-2, Dainius Zubrus got caught tripping Weiss in the offensive zone. Believe it or not, the international sign for "I didn't do it" is usually a sign that they did something. It was a fair call and the Devils had to kill off the strong Florida power play. They did a magnificent job. They stood Florida up at the line; they denied them entry passes into the zone; they won seemingly every puck battle; and they cleared the puck with aplomb and purpose. The Devils allowed no shots at all on the PP, not even a little sense of opportunity during that man advantage. Chalk that up as another area where the Devils did well.
Also, the discipline by New Jersey was a welcome sight tonight. After handing Tampa Bay 5 power plays last night, they only gave Florida one - and the PK denied them brilliantly. The best penalty kill is not having one to kill to begin with. It's particularly notable since the game got chippy with big hits by both sides, Florida taking 4 calls of their own, and a number of fights/tussles/scrums as the game went on. The Devils could have lost their nerve or got sloppy, but they didn't and that helped out. Let's hope the Devils can keep it up in future games.
Kovalchuk Hits Like A Truck: I have nothing more than that but to say that when #17 is looking to check someone, he doesn't let up. He had some real bangers tonight.
Recovery: Given the Devils ended regulation +20 in Corsi and finished the game at +16, it stands to reason they got a lot of shots on net. The Devils put up 34 on Theodore, which is the sort of effort I like to see from an offense. The lack of penalties to kill plus the Devils roaming well through the neutral zone created the chances for shots and they made the most of them. 13 in the first, 16 in the second, and 5 in the third. OK, the third was a big drop off, but I'll take it as they tied up the game.
But the defensive side of the shots count looks even better. Florida had an edge in the first period with 15 shots of their own, including 6 in a span of less than a minute that resulted in Versteeg's first goal. While Larsson's giveaway was terrible; he made up for it by not being terrible for the rest of the game. Tallinder was stupid for putting the puck in a vulnerable position; but that was his sole error of the night. Matt Taormina gave up the puck into the slot early in the first (and not caught by the Florida scorer); but that was his lone major goof-up. The theme for the blueline is that while they may have made mistakes, they didn't keep making them. With the Devils attacking as much as they did, the defensemen were able to get their minds right, remain in position and make plays as they needed. Of course, the offense "erased" the mistake on the scoreboard, which helped.
The result? Florida only put up 6 shots in the second period and just 1 in the third. 7 shots on net for the rest of the game after allowing 15 in the first 20 minutes. That's great work by the skaters, including the defensemen. My point: a player can make a terrible decision or a bad play, but they can still go on to have an effective night. That's what I saw tonight from Larsson and Tallinder, at a minimum.
One more note: the defensemen contributed quite a bit to the Devils' 34 shots on net. Every defenseman had at least one shot on net this evening at evens, and only Taormina finished the night with one on net. That's good support from the point and if they can have that happen more often, it'll result in points on the board.
The Kurtis Foster Debut: Foster played 21:53 in his first game as a Devil; 5:56 of it on the power play. The coaches wanted to see what Foster can do on the power play and so he got plenty of time to do so. He got two of the Devils' four power play shots on net; they weren't particularly memorable, but it's a start. After all, he just arrived in Sunrise to play with the Devils, he didn't have a full practice with the team. After a few practices and games with the team, he'll fit in more comfortably on the power play in time.
Overall, I would say he was just OK. He finished a -1 in Corsi, +2 in Fenwick, and played 15:55 at even strength. He played mostly with Taormina. In terms of competition, Foster saw the Matthias line the most, though he did see plenty of action against the Kopecky line too. I don't recall him making a horrid mistake that made me mad; and it was good to see him get two shots on net at even strength. That said, he's not that fast, he doesn't really use his size, and I got the sense he's really a #6 defenseman. What will make or break him as a Devil is whether he can contribute anything at all to the power play. Not a bad debut from Foster, but I didn't see anything that made me feel the Devils got some great help on the blueline. We shall see in the future; this was just one game.
6:45 PM: Scott Niedermayer Night will begin at 6:45 PM EDT on Friday. It's great that the Devils won both games in this back-to-back set. They have to feel confident. That's important since the must-win home game is next on the schedule. Let's hope the Devils can take the next step in getting a lead and keeping the opposition from within one goal.
Those are my thoughts for tonight's game, now I want to know yours. What from tonight's win stuck out the most for you? Was it the errors by the defensemen that Versteeg scored on? Was it the Henrique line pounding the Panthers over and over again? Was it the comeback? Was it the one-shot-allowed third period? Was it the shootout? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read & commented in the gamethread; thanks to everyone who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter during the game; and thank you for reading.