SUNRISE, Fla. – Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game at 3:47 of the second overtime, and the New Jersey Devils beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in Game 7 early Friday to advance to second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Devils wasted a 2-0 lead in the third period, then recovered and earned a matchup with Philadelphia in the East semifinals. Stephen Gionta also scored in regulation for New Jersey, which won a series for the first time since 2007.
Martin Brodeur made 43 saves for the Devils in a game that ended on April 27 — the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first playoff appearance for New Jersey. A couple weeks shy of turning 40, the goalie moved a round closer to a possible fourth Stanley Cup.
Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc scored third-period goals for the Panthers, and Jose Theodore made 33 saves. The Panthers made a surprising run to the Southeast Division title this season, earning their first postseason berth in 12 years.
Henrique picked up a loose puck in the right circle, skated toward the slot and beat Jose Theodore with a low shot. The Devils mobbed Henrique, as Theodore knelt on the ice in disbelief.
An hour earlier, all the momentum was going the other way. Down 2-0 entering the third period, Florida had no choice but to attack.
The Panthers thought they were on the board 1:50 into the third period when Mike Weaver's shot from the right point got past Brodeur. Shawn Matthias was whistled for goaltender interference, nullifying the goal — and further firing up the already desperate Panthers.
With Florida enjoying a 4-on-3 advantage, Weiss cut the lead in half at 5:02 of the third, burying a one-timer from the right circle after a pass from Brian Campbell. The equalizer nearly came 3 minutes later, when Weiss had another shot blocked, Scottie Upshall nearly got his stick on the rebound — the Devils' Andy Greene tied him up just enough to thwart that chance — and Kris Versteeg's try was batted away.
Didn't matter. The Panthers kept coming. And with Marek Zidlicky in the penalty box for a delay of game call, Florida got the franchise's biggest goal in 16 years.
Shawn Bergenheim made a nifty move to get free for a shot that Brodeur stopped. The rebound rolled left, nearly on the goal line, and Goc knocked it home from an extremely tough angle to tie it at 2 with 3:28 left.
Florida took two shots in the entire second period — then took 16 of the final 18 shots of the third.
And to overtime they went.
The first 2 minutes of regulation — probably long forgotten by the time the game ended — went about as badly as could be for Florida, which quickly found itself down both a goal and a center.
Henrique opened the scoring when he tipped the puck past Theodore to get New Jersey on the board and silence an anxious crowd. Anton Volchenkov camped out at the left point, waited for a pass from behind the net to bounce off the boards and carom his way, then fired a one-timer that Henrique — considered by many to be the league's best rookie — directed into the net.
A half-minute later, things got worse for Florida.
Panthers center John Madden and winger Tomas Kopecky collided near center ice, and Madden took the brunt of the big hit. He writhed in agony for several seconds before trying to crawl to the Florida bench, the blood pouring from his face leaving a blotchy red trail along the ice. Two workers emerged to scrape up the mess.
New Jersey dominated the opening minutes, taking eight of the first 10 shots. Eventually, the Panthers settled down — getting 10 shots at Brodeur in the final 10-plus minutes of the first period, yet still heading into the first intermission trailing 1-0.
"They got one lucky tip," Kopecky said in a televised interview between periods. "You know, we weren't in a lane and we were kind of cruising around in our zone and it ended up in our net."
Lucky or not, it was enough to get the Devils going.
Ryan Carter was credited with the second assist on Gionta's goal, though his biggest contribution to the play was being aware of exactly where he was on the ice. Carter dragged his back leg along the blue line just long enough to avoid an offsides call, and a few seconds later Gionta got just enough separation from Florida defenseman Brian Campbell to send the puck past Theodore.
Little did anyone know, things were just getting started.
NOTES: The Devils and Flyers split six meetings this season. It'll be the fifth time in the Brodeur era that the teams have met in the playoffs; Philadelphia won in 2004 and 2010, while New Jersey prevailed on their way to Cup titles in 1995 and 2000. ... Florida had as many broken sticks — two — as shots in the second period. ... Madden returned to the ice about 13 minutes after needing to leave following the collision with Kopecky.