Sunrise, FL – Adam Henrique opened the scoring with his first career playoff goal and his second 3:47 into double overtime lifted the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal at BankAtlantic Center.
Martin Brodeur recorded 43 saves for the sixth-seeded Devils, who advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in five years. They had suffered first-round losses to the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers from 2008-10 before missing the postseason a year ago.
Up next for New Jersey in these playoffs will be a semifinal matchup with the fifth-seeded Flyers, who ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. The series is scheduled to begin Sunday in Philly.
Jose Theodore was back between the pipes for Florida after missing Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury and made 33 saves. He shut out New Jersey in Game 5.
The Panthers had won their only other Game 7 at Pittsburgh in the 1996 East Finals, the franchise's last playoff series victory.
"No one really gave us a shot at the start of the year and at the start of this series," said Florida forward Scottie Upshall. "This group worked extremely hard and we did a lot of things this year that were against the odds."
The script for Thursday's Game 7 played out the same way as in Game 6, with the Southeast Division winners rallying from a two-goal deficit before losing in overtime.
Florida pulled even in the third period with power-play goals from Stephen Weiss at 5:02 and Marcel Goc at 16:32.
The Panthers appeared to score 1:50 into the third, but a goaltender interference penalty negated Tomas Fleischmann's goal.
But Florida did get on the board when Weiss one-timed a return feed from Brian Campbell over the left shoulder of Brodeur.
With 3:48 remaining in regulation, New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky cleared the puck over the glass from his own zone, resulting in a delay-of- game penalty.
It took the Panthers just 20 seconds to convert on the subsequent man- advantage. Brodeur made a left pad on Sean Bergenheim's deflected shot, but Goc buried the rebound from the right side of the net.
The first overtime period was far from dull. Former Devil John Madden had two opportunities from point-blank range early in the frame.
Moments later, New Jersey failed to capitalize on a slashing penalty assessed to Kris Versteeg. Then, in the late stages, Upshall couldn't cash in a Weiss rebound from the slot.
There was only one shot in the second overtime and it ended the series. Henrique pounced on a loose puck between the circles and wristed it past Theodore.
"Got a pretty good bounce, found myself alone and just tried to get [the puck] on net," Henrique said.
For the fifth time in this series, the Devils scored the game's first goal. Henrique, one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, moved to the slot and tipped Anton Volchenkov's shot from the left point past Theodore 1:29 into the contest.
Henrique missed wide with a backhander on a breakaway during 4-on-4 play six minutes later. However, he did draw a hooking penalty on Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. But the Panthers killed the power play.
Kulikov bailed out his goaltender to keep it a one-goal game after 20 minutes. Zidlicky sent a slap shot from the right side, and the puck trickled through Theodore into the blue paint, where it was swept away by the 21-year-old Russian.
Stephen Gionta backhanded the rebound of a Peter Harrold point shot to give New Jersey a 2-0 lead at 9:15 of the second period.
New Jersey won its first winner-take-all contest since beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to claim the franchise's third Stanley Cup championship on June 9, 2003. The Devils evened their record in 14 Game 7s while improving to 4-5 on the road in such contests...The Devils won back-to-back postseason games for the first time since winning three straight against Tampa Bay in the 2007 quarterfinals...Florida defenseman Jason Garrison returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury...New Jersey's David Clarkson had two assists.