NEWARK STATE OF MIND: Panthers kick off Gotham road trip with tough loss to Devils ... New Jersey has owned Panthers since end of 2012 playoff series
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers kicked off a tough road trip in the New York metro area Saturday with the most winnable game of the three.
This may not end well for them.
The Devils -- who played the night before, used their lightly-used backup goalie and had just 14 shots on goal -- scored twice in the opening period and handcuffed Florida the rest of the way in a 3-1 victory.
New Jersey was credited with just two shots on goal in the entire second [ITAL] and [ITA] third periods before Steve Bernier's empty-net goal made it 3-0 with 2:32 left.
"We have to start scoring sooner or later,'' said Brandon Pirri, who scored Florida's lone goal with 89 seconds remaining.
"One goal isn't enough and that's on forwards like me who need to be scoring. Things were clogged up, yes, but there were rebounds to be had. We just need to go to the hoop. We're not going to score the easy ones. That's not how we're built. We're an ugly team and need to score ugly goals.''
The Panthers have lost six of seven heading into Monday's game at the Garden against a Rangers team which now leads them by eight points for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As for postseason hopes, well, the Panthers may as well stop worrying about the standings for the time being.
After Saturday, Florida is not only eight back of New York and Washington (both have 60 points), but trail Boston by nine points for the top wild card spot with 35 games remaining.
"They're going to win because the teams in front of us are good teams,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"If we're going to lose, we're going to fall behind. We have to take care of ourself, our own game. And we weren't good enough [Saturday].''
As has been their style seemingly forever, the Devils didn't do much but play shutdown defense on Saturday.
And, as it historically has been the case, it was plenty good enough.
"You know how they play, and you can't spot them two goals,'' Shawn Thornton said. "For decades, they don't give up much defensively. At the end it only matters what the score is and we come out of here with a loss.''
New Jersey, which has secured at least a point in eight of 10 games, scored on two of its first four shots on goal in the first period (in almost 15 minutes of play) with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Cammalleri doing the honors.
Cammalleri's goal came on a power play as he teed off on a slick through-the-skates pass from Bernier with 5:23 left in the first.
Jagr slid into the slot and his wrister made it 1-0.
"We knew this is the game they were going to play,'' said Roberto Luongo, who faced just 13 shots all night.
"They don't give up much of anything. I enjoy a few shots to keep me sharp. That was probably the most boring game I've ever been a part of. .-.-. That was a bad hockey game right there.''
The Panthers held the Devils to zero shots on goal for all but the final two seconds of the second period, but New Jersey held Florida off the scoreboard so it would gladly make that trade time and again.
As was the case in the second, the Devils' played keep away from the Panthers in the third.
When Luongo stepped out of the cage to give the Panthers another attacker, the Devils pounced and sent a few toward the enticing empty net. Bernier connected on the Devils' second shot of the third period to end things.
Florida had 27 shots on goal and 51 shot attempts to just 33 for the Devils.
"We had some good chances, it wasn't like there wasn't any offense,'' Gallant said.
"We just didn't capitalize on our chances. I'm not saying we played great, but we had chances in the second half of the game to get back into it.''
Since holding a 3-2 series lead on the Devils in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the Panthers have won two of eight meetings against New Jersey.
The Devils won the final two games of that series and eventually advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
New Jersey has outscored the Panthers 8-2 in its two wins this season. The third game of the series comes in the regular season finale on April 11 in Sunrise.
-- Tomas Kopecky and Jimmy Hayes were Florida's healthy scratches Saturday as Tomas Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup.