By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE — Payback came a little late at BB&T Center on Saturday night, but it arrived nonetheless as the Florida Panthers did something they couldn’t do last April in the playoffs.
Beat the New Jersey Devils in overtime.
Shawn Matthias’s second goal tied the game with just 27 seconds remaining in regulation, and Dmitry Kulikov’s first goal of the year lifted the Panthers by the Devils, 3-2, in overtime at BB&T Center.
The Panthers lost Game 7 to New Jersey last year in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in double overtime, but in the Devils’ first visit since that season-ending night, Florida exacted a little revenge on New Jersey and future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in front of 18,138 fans.
Down 2-1 late in the third period, Florida (11-19-6) pulled goalie Jacob Markstrom and skated 6-on-5 with the extra attacker. After Tomas Fleischmann’s shot from just inside the blue line ricocheted to Scottie Upshall, a backhanded pass from Upshall deflected off Brodeur. Standing all alone in front of Brodeur, Matthias netted his second goal to tie it at 2-2.
In overtime, Jonathan Huberdeau weakly misfired on a shot toward Brodeur. Kulikov, racing in 1-on-1, beat Brodeur to the loose puck, but the netminder poke-checked it away. A clearing attempt by Travis Zajac hit Brian Campbell, who kept the puck in the zone, whipped it cross-ice to Kulikov, and the Russian defenseman zipped a shot past Brodeur for the game-winner. Kulikov’s last goal was against Vancouver on Jan. 9, 2012.
It was only the Panthers’ second overtime win in the last two seasons, though the club did win a shootout against Buffalo on Thursday. Florida’s last overtime win was a 3-2 decision over the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 18, 2011. In that Sunday matinee, Kris Versteeg scooped up a blocked shot off the stick of Stephen Weiss and beat Cam Ward for the goal.
Coach Kevin Dineen on Florida’s efforts against the Devils:
Matthias continued his hot streak, adding the two goals to give him 11 in his last 16 games and team-best 14 overall. Huberdeau’s pass from below the right circle went off Matthias’s skate and by Brodeur for a power-play tally in the first period. It was the fifth two-goal game of his career.
Matthias talks about his play:
Huberdeau, 19, recorded two assists to move him ahead of all rookies in scoring. His 25 points (13-12-25) put him one ahead of Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher. Huberdeau also has a three-game assist streak and five points in his last three games.
Ex-Florida forward Steve Bernier scored both goals for New Jersey (15-11-9) and has five goals in his last 11 games against his former club, including playoffs. Bernier, who played for current Devils coach Pete DeBoer with the Panthers, had gone 13 games without a goal. However, he tapped in a pass from Ryan Carter, who also played with Bernier in Florida, and later tipped in a shot by Henrik Tallinder for a 2-1 lead. It was Tallinder’s first game back after an 11-game absence.
Still stuck on a devilish 666 career wins, Brodeur was playing in back-to-back contests for the first time this year. He complained to officials about Upshall’s swing-and-miss with a high stick to get the puck in the closing seconds of regulation. But the officials ruled Upshall didn’t make contact, and the Florida winger then sent the backhander at Brodeur that led to the tying goal. Brodeur stands at 2-0-3 since his return.
The loss was a particularly difficult one for New Jersey, who could very easily have left the Sunshine State with four points instead of two if it had closed out either game in the last half-minute. The Devils seemingly had victory in hand Friday in Tampa, but the Lightning’s Alex Killorn scored with 15 seconds left to send it to overtime, where Tampa Bay came out victorious in a shootout. The situation was similar against the Panthers, who evened the game with 27 seconds left.
New Jersey currently slots seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, five points behind Toronto and four ahead of the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, both with 35 points. Carolina has 34 while 11th-place Washington has 33.