The Panthers seemed to get over whatever jitters they may have had in their first postseason game in 12 years on Friday.
It came at a cost.
Florida watched New Jersey run roughshod in the opening period, with Patrik Elias scoring on the team's 13th shot on goal just 6:31 into the game.
The Devils took 26 shots in the opening period alone as New Jersey went into the first break up 3-0. The Devils won the opener of the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 2 on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Net).
With Game 2 coming up so quickly, the Panthers know they can't have a reserved start. For Florida to even the series heading to New Jersey later this week, the Panthers need to play with the same resolve they did in the final two periods on Friday and forget about that brutal first.
“At the end of it, the first period sticks out,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We answered and pushed back. Over the course of the year, we've lean on the positives. There were things to build on.
"I think we'll be better prepared [Sunday]. You have to give credit to your opponent. They came out gangbusters. That's been their M.O. all year. They come out hard. You can use excuses like jitters and things. But we got outplayed early and have to own up to that.''
One positive that came out of the opening period on Friday was the play of goaltender Jose Theodore. Although he did give up three goals, it wasn't like he had much help out there. The 26 shots Theodore faced were the most in a single period of a postseason game in four years.
If Theodore looked out of breath at some points, well, he was.
“My cardio was pumping and it was hard to catch up at times,'' Theodore said. “You didn't really have time because they kept coming and coming. It's tough physically. But you prepare all year for games like that, the playoffs. Hopefully this is the last time we face 26 shots as a team.''
There was some external debate on whether Dineen was going to start Theodore or backup Scott Clemmensen – although there apparently wasn't much of an internal one as Theodore admitted Saturday that he “knew a pretty long time ago” that he would be starting in Game 1.
And after his performance against the Devils – he stopped 35 shots – he'll be back on Sunday.
“He was fantastic,'' Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought he was great.''
Although the Panthers figured New Jersey would come out humming – the Devils took the initial lead on Florida in three of four regular season meetings – no one saw that kind of attack coming.
“I don't think that's something you plan on,'' Theodore said Saturday morning. “They are a team that come out hard in the first. They were ready to play. We were just trying to battle. With 20 minutes left, it was a one-goal game.
"It was 3-0 after the first, but you don't lose your focus. You keep pushing. Instead of letting down, we played two good periods. We almost came all the way back.''
DeBoer said one of the few bright spots at the end of his final season with the Panthers was the all-out play of Ryan Carter. The Panthers acquired the hard-nosed forward before the trade deadline when they sent Cory Stillman to Carolina.
Carter had two goals and an assist in 12 games with the Panthers and then DeBoer was fired. Carter made the Panthers this summer, but after playing in seven games, was placed on waivers.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello asked DeBoer his opinion on Carter and he had nothing but praise. New Jersey claimed Carter and he played in 65 games and put up eight points. His first period goal on Friday ended up being the game-winner.
“He was one of the bright spots over the last 20 games, was a guy who played until the last game and played the right way,'' DeBoer said. “I thought he was a good fit and Lou agreed. We've used him in a lot of different places. He's done a lot of good things for us.''
Said Carter: “He definitely gave me an opportunity and didn't have to. I appreciate that. It's nice, been rewarding to play in a scenario like this. It's the biggest stage. This is fun.''
--Tomas Fleischmann missed Saturday's practice with what Dineen said was a maintenance day. Fleischmann is expected to be back on the top line on Sunday. Wojtek Wolski filled in for Fleischmann on Saturday.
SUNDAY: DEVILS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/WQAM-560
The series: New Jersey leads best-of-7 series 1-0 (Florida won season series 2-1-1)
The game: The Panthers played a strong game in the final two periods Friday but couldn't overcome a 3-0
deficit and lost 3-2. Goalie Martin Brodeur was strong against the Panthers (again) as he stopped 24 shots and got the Devils second goal going with a smart pass up ice after Florida cleared the zone on a penalty kill. Patrik Elias has 22 goals against the Panthers in 51 regular season games and scored Friday.