PANTHERS 4, DEVILS 3
NEWARK, N.J. – With a lot going against his team Friday night, coach Pete DeBoer said he naturally worried his team would “say 'here we go again' and just pack it in.''
This version of the Panthers has more than their share of flaws, but one thing they don't do is quit.
That resolve paid off Friday.
Down a goal going into third third against a defensive-minded team, the Panthers kept coming at the Devils and got a shorthanded breakaway beauty from Mike Santorelli to tie the game. That allowed Rostislav Olesz to score two minutes into overtime and give Florida a rare come-from-behind 4-3 win at Prudential Center.
“I think we deserved that. We've been playing some good hockey and haven't gotten a lot of bounces around the net at least on this trip,'' DeBoer said. “We're in the mix. Health is an issue, we're dealing with some things. But we have some time before we get going on a critical homestand.''
The Panthers snapped a three game losing streak and head home for two weeks. Florida went 2-3-1 on the trip and picked up two points in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers finally picked up a little ground on Atlanta and Carolina and currently trailed the Thrashers by five points for the final spot.
“It's hard to get two or three points much less seven,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “Every point is huge and we just have to keep winning, chip away at them. Pretty soon things snowball and you're right in it.''
The resurgent Devils – who have won eight of 11 with two losses coming tot he Panthers – bounced back after Florida took its usual 1-0 lead after Chris Higgins knocked in a rebound off a Steve Bernier shot. The Devils then took advantage of some leaky defense, scoring two quick goals for a 2-1 advantage.
The Panthers tied things before the first break as Dennis Wideman – who was benched for the third period of Wednesday's loss in Montreal – came up big by ripping a shot from the slot and putting the puck past backup Johan Hedberg. Michael Frolik, who hasn't scored a goal in 22 games, celebrated like someone who hasn't scored a goal in 22 games as he shielded Hedberg's view helping Wideman's shot find paydirt.
The Devils took their last and final lead of the night in the second when Tomas Vokoun gave up a crazy soft goal that he never saw.
Jersey's Mark Fayne hit the puck as if struck with a sand wedge from 40 feet out, the puck harmlessly floating toward the net. Teammate Nick Palmieri was camped in front of Vokoun and saw the knuckleball coming and ducked at the last second. That move allowed the puck to go over both his and Vokoun's head, flopping at the base of the net for a 3-2 lead. Vokoun never saw it.
“If he tried that 100 times, he couldn't chip it that far and have it do that and go into the net,'' Vokoun said smiling. “It was just bad luck. Hey, it doesn't matter now. We got the two points. But, that would have been a good shot from the sand.''
The Panthers continued to come hard at Hedberg and the Devils defense, finally breaking through when Santorelli picked off the puck in the Florida zone and raced in on Hedberg. The Devils goalie came out of the crease giving Santorelli an easy shot into an empty net.
“I had a move picked out in my head,'' Santorelli said. “I saw him come out and stuck with my plan. I thought we played real well, it's nice to get the win. We stuck to it and finally got the win''
The Devils had a number of chances in overtime but Vokoun was sharp, allowing Olesz to take Florida's only shot of the session count. The goal was Olesz's fifth of the season and 11th game-winner in his six seasons with the Panthers.
“The team put a great effort out there, everyone did,'' said Olesz, who had to be stitched up after being struck in the mouth by a puck. “We left it all on the ice in the third.''
The Panthers will be going back in time Saturday as they hold a special practice at their old stomping grounds off Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point. The Panthers haven't practiced at the former Gold Coast Ice Arena since moving into what is their current training facility in 1997.
The team will hold a number of activities at Glacier Ice Arena starting at 2 p.m., with the Panthers taking the ice for a light practice around 4.
Radek Dvorak is the only current player who regularly worked out at Gold Coast, although assistant coach Gord Murphy as well as broadcasters Randy Moller and Bill Lindsay also were members of the Panthers during their days near the beach.
“It's going to bring back a lot of memories. It was nice, a small rink and I can't wait to go out there again,'' said Dvorak, drafted by the Panthers in 1995. Dvorak was traded in 1999, but returned to the franchise as a free agent in 2007. “It's been a long time since I've been there. I think it's going to be nice. We had a nice locker room, things were OK there. I never minded it.''
One of the most enduring images of the Panthers practicing at the small facility was the access fans had. When the team was in the midst of its run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, it would be commonplace for more than a hundred fans to line up in the parking lot for autographs and photos.
The late Roger Neilson, Florida's first coach, embodied hockey in South Florida as he would often leave the rink on a beach cruiser and cruise up U.S. 1 to his waterfront condo -- all while wearing sandals and sunglasses.
“I'll never forget the day he came in all scraped up. Someone cut him off and he went over the handlebars,'' Lindsay said. “That was a great place with a bunch of guys who didn't know any better and didn't care. We were five minutes from the beach, all of us just happy to be playing NHL hockey in Florida. It was a different time, that's for sure.''
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Florida Panthers Stick With Plan, Get Rewarded with 4-3 OT Win at New Jersey
PANTHERS 4, DEVILS 3
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