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AND WE'RE DONE: Devils Wrap Up Florida Panthers with 3-2 Thriller in 2 OT

BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

South Florida was introduced to what a Game 7 playoff hockey game is all about Thursday. 

Then it went into Friday morning.

The highs, the lows and the utter desperation of trying to keep a season alive makes for fantastic theater. For the first time, one of those winner-take-all games every hockey fan talks about was hosted by the Panthers. 

Surely those red-clad fans who packed the BankAtlantic Center for the Panthers opening round finale against the Devils left with sore throats and higher blood pressure and a sense of what could have been.

Florida, despite playing about as good as it could in the third period, watched Adam Henrique score with 3:47 gone in second overtime as the Devils pulled out its second straight 3-2 overtime win to advance.

The Panthers trailed 2-0 going into the third period but got power play goals from Stephen Weiss at 5:02 of the period and the equalizer from Marcel Goc with 3:28 left in regulation. Goc's goal also came on a power play as the Devils were called for a delay of game.

New Jersey, the sixth seed in the east despite having eight more points than the Southeast Division champion Panthers, advance to play Philadelphia in the conference semifinals.

Florida ends what has been a surprisingly successful season with overtime losses in its final two games. The Panthers, it should be noted, led the league in overtime losses this season.

As bad as the Panthers were in the second period – Florida took just two shots on goal – they were a completely different bunch in the third. 

The Panthers came hard at Martin Brodeur and the Devils, finally breaking through and making it a 2-1 game when Stephen Weiss one-timed a soft pass from Brian Campbell 5:02 into the period. Florida held a 4-on-3 advantage at that point because of various penalties and a crowd that booed after a horrid second period were on their feet. 

Florida played like a veteran-led team desperate to keep its season going through the third period and tied things up when Goc followed up a big shot from Sean Bergenheim.

The Devils, who faced elimination at home in Game 6 on Tuesday before winning in the extra frame, got off to a quick start with rookie Adam Henrique tipping in a long shot from Anton Volchenkov 1:29 into the game.

Jose Theodore, back in net after missing Game 6 with what's believed to be knee stiffness, didn't seem to see the puck coming as Henrique somehow got enough movement on it to put it through Theodore's skates. 

“They got one lucky tip,'' Tomas Kopecky said at the first intermission. “We weren’t in a lane and we were kind of cruising around in our zone and it ended up in our net.''

Florida played strong for much of the second half of the opening period. Despite being outshot 5-0 in the first five minutes, Florida charged hard at Brodeur, the hardy playoff veteran, and ended with 12 shots in the period. Unfortunately for the Panthers, none of them found their way home. 

Kopecky added at the intermission that if the Panthers played that way in the second period “we'll be fine.'' Well, they didn't. 

Florida managed just two shots in the period – the second came with 90 seconds left – as Brodeur had plenty of time to look around the arena and take in the scenery. 

The Devils, meanwhile, made it a 2-0 game midway through the period when Stephen Gionta backhanded a shot past Theodore through traffic. 

Tomas Fleischmann appeared to make it a 2-1 game less than two minutes into the third period but his goal was waved off as Shawn Matthias was called for goalie interference after being checked into Brodeur by Henrique. Florida had to wait a few more minutes for its 10-year veteran in Weiss to break the ice against Brodeur.

--Kopecky and teammate John Madden had a hard collision at center ice early in the opening period with Madden taking the brunt of it. Madden hit the ice and stayed face down for a few moments as play continued, blood pooling on the ice.

Madden was eventually helped to his feet and taken into the locker room for treatment. Madden returned to the game later in the first period. 



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Thanks for such a fun and exciting season Panthers

And in the end, they failed, they choked, just like every other team down there. Back to irrelevance. Five will get you ten that they won't sniff the playoffs next year. More South Florida losers. Fire everybody.

Truth, I have two replies -- let's go Flyers and the Panthers deserve credit for incredible effort and heart. Maybe a young high draft choice will add the scoring they need and next year will be different. Thanks Kevin and Dale. Now just shut up Yormark and all will be well

Truthteller, You are a joke. One thing the Panther didn't do is choke. I'm glad to see you know absolutely nothing about sports. Chocking is playing scared, they didn't. The Panther outplayed NJ in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. They out shot them, out hit them, won more face offs, had more power plays. You are the only loser on this blog. If you don't like SoFLA leave, what's holding you here. Oh yeah you live with your momma, and can't afford to live on your own. Got it.

amen mike

Great Playoff Hockey game and even though we finished on the wrong side at the end, I enjoyed this whole season because nobody gives the Panthers any credit and they won a division title and fought back every time they were down. Looking at J.Madden,S.Weiss,E.Gudbranson faces showed true playoff intensity.The future is bright and hopefully D.Tallon gets GM of the year. Also a terrific job from all the coaches.
Thank You Panthers!

Truthteller, it is time someone stepped up and told you the truth. The Panthers overacheived in every way possible this season. No one expected them to get to the playoffs, win the division crown, or make it to a 7th game against the Devils (except George). The future is bright, they are loaded with talent in the minors. And lastly, I think I speak for most Panther fans by telling you the real truth, which is it is a shame you weren't run over by the Zamboni!!!!

major creds and respect to our panthers on all message boards today folks, i mean real recognition for what they've done . . .

a lot of posts expressing disappointment that we didn't eventually come out on top, but recognising that this organisation is on the up and set to content for years to come!

we won over a lot of people folks, they can see what we did and what we have the potentil to do. hockey is truly back in SoFla!

There was a feeling in those stands (3rd period on at least) that we haven't experienced in years. High fives and >80% home team fans. For once we can hold our heads high, wear those Panther jerseys to work without shame and know that the future is promising. Thank you Dale and Kevin for reawakening the hockey spirit in South Florida. You have made a lot of new fans, and reminded the Johnny come latelys that there is more to FL sports than the Big 3 (go Heat!), Marlins new uniforms and the Dolphins debacle!

I am a former Jersey boy, and though it hurts to 'root' for Philly, it's going to be fun watching them beat the snot out of Parise and Kovalchuk!

Thank you Dale Tallon, Mike Santos and Kevin Dineen for giving us our first Southeast Division Championship and a season that exceeded everyones expectations. It has been a long time waiting to see such exciting hockey in our barn. That said I couldn’t be more disappointed in the few classless fans that threw full soda bottles on the ice and booed after a hard fought game that lead to a loss in double overtime. This team over-achieved all season and gave us 4 games of playoff hockey in the billboard. This classless display of sportsmanship is totally uncalled for and reflects poorly on all Panthers fans. Show some respect, NJ earned that win, and congrats to Pete DeBoer (a class act of a coach) for rebounding after being a victim of this franchises deplorable past. The future is bright in SFla for hockey. We have the best prospects in the league and a management and coaching staff committed to a winning culture. I am proud of our team and all they have accomplished this season and I look forward to next season. Go Cats!

Go Cats, I think you summed it up perfectly...

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