DEVILS 5, PANTHERS 2
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers caught a glimpse into their future on Sunday afternoon.
They are banking it will get better.
Jacob Markstrom, Florida's highly-touted goalie prospect, made his NHL debut against the Devils on Sunday and despite a strong start – well, the Devils didn't get off a shot in his opening 11 minutes – things went downhill rapidly. New Jersey picked up two power play goals on its first five shots against Markstrom and ran away with a 5-2 victory.
“It's fun to play your first game in the NHL, this is why I came to North America in the first place,'' Markstrom said afterward. “But you always want to win. I hate to lose. It doesn't matter if I played two periods or one or three. We didn't win. There are more games coming up.''
Said coach Pete DeBoer: “He's going to be an NHL goalie for a long time. Now he's got the first one out of the way.''
Florida has now lost four straight but did pick up at least a point in its previous three losses. The surging Devils are still way out of the playoff race, but have won six of seven with their only loss during this run coming to the Panthers in Sunrise on Jan. 15.
Markstrom was told by Rochester coach Chuck Weber on Saturday night that he was coming up to backup Scott Clemmensen after it was decided Tomas Vokoun's undisclosed 'upper-body' injury would keep him from dressing. Clemmensen has been strong against his former teammates of late, winning both starts against the Devils last season and taking the game earlier this month.
Clemmensen, however, wasn't very sharp on Sunday and DeBoer decided to make a change after New Jersey scored twice in the opening period.
“We were looking for a shock for the team,'' DeBoer said of the quick hook. “It was a no pressure situation for [Markstrom] because sometimes if you know you're playing, you sit around all day thinking about it. In this case, we threw him out there. I thought he handled himself well.''
The Devils jumped to a 1-0 lead when Florida nemesis Ilya Kovalchuk – 32 goals and 30 assists in 51 games, most of which with Atlanta – fired a long shot past Clemmensen after the Panthers defense failed to clear the puck less than five minutes in.
The two teams played a defensive-minded game for much of the remainder of the first, with the two teams combining for just 15 shots. But the Devils' eighth shot of the period was a doozy as Jason Arnott knocked the puck past Clemmensen with just two seconds remaining.
The Panthers failed to clear the puck on numerous chances, although Clemmensen didn't help his cause by misplaying a puck. Thanks to that and Florida's inability to get rid of it, the Devils set themselves up nicely.
“If you're going to play it, play it hard,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said. “I think the game for [Clemmensen] was a reflection of how the game was going for us. Changing goalies did give us a spark. We came out and were shooting. Clemmensen knew he misplayed the puck. You can't have a soft touch there.''
Clemmensen found himself on the bench to start the second with Markstrom making his debut. Markstrom, the first pick of the second round in the 2008 draft, had plenty of time to calm any nerves he may have had as the Panthers played the aggressor and cycled the puck in the Jersey zone.
By the time Alexander Vasyunov took the Devils' first shot of the second with 8:31 remaining, the Panthers had already cut the deficit in half as center Shawn Matthias scored on a pretty shot, beating Martin Brodeur at 7:22 of the second.
Markstrom stopped the first two shots he faced, but he never saw the third as Brian Rolston whipped a power play shot from the right side that buzzed over the 20-year-old goalie's shoulder. The Devils got a great power play chance not long after when Florida defensemen Joe Callahan and Mike Weaver went to the penalty box within 18 seconds of each infraction.
Playing with a two-man advantage, the Devils quickly made it 4-1 when Patrik Elias – another Devil who loves playing Florida – slipped in a shot from the right side of the cage.
The Panthers made it a two-goal game when Marty Reasoner knocked in a loose puck five minutes into the third, but unlike Florida, the Devils traditionally don't give up many two goal leads – especially with Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench. The Devils got their fifth goal when Arnott scored into an empty net.
Sunday's game could be the only one Markstrom plays with the Panthers this season – or not. He said he didn't know his immediate future. Vokoun is expected to practice with the team Monday at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan.
“As a backup goalie, you have to prepare to be ready to play,'' said Markstrom, whose official opening line is two goals off 14 shots in 39:49 of playing time. “I was prepared to get in but I didn't expect it.''
-- Markstrom was told he was joining the Panthers on Saturday night after his Rochester Americans played in Hershey, Pa. Markstrom said he woke up early, flew into the New York area and took a cab to the team's hotel in Times Square. Markstrom was rushed because Sunday's game was an afternoon start.
“I thought he was real good for traveling all day,'' Tallas said.
-- Markstrom became the youngest goalie to make his debut with the Panthers. Roberto Luongo, who had already made his NHL debut by the time he made his first start for the Panthers in 2000, was 21-years-old.
Kevin Weekes and Alexander Salak were both 22 when they played in their first games for Florida.
Salak, like Markstrom, made his debut by coming in after DeBoer decided to make a change. Salak replaced Vokoun in a game at Carolina last season.