THEY DID IT! New Jersey advances! 83:47 minutes of play time, a game that'd lapse into the early goings of Friday morning concluding with a dramatic 2OT goal from Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique would be the deciding factor in a Game 7 between the Florida Panthers and your New Jersey Devils. From the opening faceoff, you could tell this team had momentum carrying over from Game 6. The game, I believe, was won by the veteran experience in net by Martin Brodeur, aided by the youthful energy present in Adam Henrique throught the length of the game.
Scoring BOTH, the first, and last goal, Adam Henrique would manage to scathe his way into the path of a drive from the blue line, redirecting a blast off the stick of defenseman Anton Volchenkov into the net past Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore. Henrique's goal in the first was scored 90 seconds in, a tip-in from Volchenkov and Clarkson even strength to put Jersey on the board. In wake of Adam's goal, the penalty box would recieve visits from both Bryce Salvador and Erik Gudbranson at 6:04 for roughing, followed up a minute later by Dmitry Kulikov from Florida giving New Jersey the man advantage, a 4 on 3 for a few ticks of the clock until the off setting minors would clear, resulting in a successful PK by the Cats. Three minutes later, Clarkson would take two in the sin bin for a rather questionable "diving" call after being CLOSELINED by Ed Jovanovski, who, as well, would sit two for holding at 10:39 of the first period, just over the half way point of the 1st. In the closing minutes of period one, Salvador would take a breather again, in the penalty box when he was called for interference at 17:20; New Jersey killed off the powerplay. Brodeur would push aside all 12 shots faced in the opening 20 as his cross-ice-opponent Jose Theodore, would stop 8 of 9. The Devils stuck to the basic idea of applying pressure right out of the gate, scoring early, and taking little to no penalties. New Jersey 1-0 Florida.
Believe it or not, New Jersey WOULDNT blow the lead here in the dreaded second period. Normally, this is where I feel a sense of depression while watching the games; knowing the Devils' track record in second periods this season. Like I said, believe it or not, New Jersey would SCORE here! Another rookie this time, one with quite a familiar last name for that matter, Stephen Gionta would punch in his 2nd goal of the playoffs (1st goal coming back in a 4-3 loss to Florida in G3) and his 3rd goal of his young NHL career since being called up from the Albany Devils. With no penalties here this period, Baby Gio's goal would be the lone, outstanding marker on the period's box score. Gionta's goal would be clocked in at 9:15 of the second period from rookie blue liner Peter Harrold and Ryan Carter, even strength, to give New Jersey the 2-0 edge 40 minutes down, 20 to go. Brodeur continued to hold onto the goose-egg on the scoreboard, tacking on a medicore 2 saves on two relatively weak shots. Through 40 minutes, the Devils managed to out shoot Florida 20-14, going 0-1 on the powerplay while killing off the only Florida powerplay opportunity.
As if this nailbitter of a game had been scripted somewhere in Hollywood, it would be only fitting for the team down 2-0 to make a valiant effort to capture the "W" in regulation. We'll open the 3rd period with the dis-allowed goal. A shot by a Panther about 2 min in would scooter its way past the lunging body of Marty Brodeur and into the back of the net bringing the Panthers to within one of the Devs with PLENTY of time on their side. The downside? Brodeur was interfered with. A questionable "shove" from behind by Adam Henrique on Shawn Matthias would lead to a collision with Marty in the crease, allowing the puck to find its way past the nearly impenetrable 3x Stanley Cup Champion goalie. Florida would be short handed; Matthias to the box at 1:50 for goaltender interference. New Jersey could not convert on the opportunity. When Matthias hit the ice again after his 2 minutes were up, shortly after, David Clarkson would take his turn in the penalty box when he was nabbed for hi-sticking. This would come to back to nip New Jersey in their one achillies heel of the series, their lack of killing penalties. With Clarky in the box and Florida up 5 skaters to the Devils' 4, nearly 45 seconds later Erik Gudbranson would nearly erase a man advantage for his team when he was sent to sit out two for slashing Bryce Salvador right on the left thumb. While on the 4 on 4, Devils defenseman Peter Harrold would slip up, holding is the call, and 2 minutes would be the sentencing. With a 4 on 3 for a short while, it'd be the New Jersey Nightmare, Stephen Weiss on the powerplay with 4 seconds remaining, who would put Florida on the board, finally, after a beautiful passing pattern between himself, Brian Campbell, and Mikael Samuelsson would lead back to Weiss driving one past Marty on the glove side for the goal. With Clarkson emerging from the box and New Jersey still killing off the Harrold holding penalty, Florida would show a sense of urgency as their shot totals began to rise in numbers, leaving them with 17 more shots in the 3rd than the 2nd (33 total through periods 1-3). The Devils miraculously would keep Florida off the board throughout the remaining minutes of the period! Oh, wait, I forgot a certain somebody taking a costly delay of game penalty with 3:48 minutes left in the game, his name, Marek Zidlicky. Despite pressure from behind, all he needed to do was chip it forward where a teammate was; instead we were left withMr. Zidlicky sitting in the penalty box for all of 20 seconds... yes, 20, seconds, in the box. FLORIDA POWERPLAY GOAL! Marcel Goc from Bergenheim and Garrison at 16:32 of the third would knot this game up at 2! As if the suspense wasnt building up enough for us all to begin with, and then, in the waning minutes, a horrific penalty could potential put New Jersey on the brink of playing Philadelphia this weekend, or playing 18 holes of golf Monday morning... the score would remain the same, shot totals through 60 were 33-26 Florida. Florida went 2/4 on the powerplay while New Jersey was 0/2 (concluding the night 0/3), this game, would be decided in THE, SINGLE MOST, DRAMATIC PLAYOFF SCENARIO OF ALL... OVERTIME, or so we thought.
Well well well... overtime, for the second game in a row. Winner takes all! Devils-Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, WELL PAST sunset would take the opening faceoff for the 20 minute sudden death overtime period. Florida winning the draw would make just about ANY fan nervous at this stage of the game, as it sure as hell did for me. Shot after shot, followed up by save after save would suddenly see the last penalty of the night come from the corner in the Devils defensive zone. Florida's prolific goal scorer Kris Versteeg called for the slash 3:21 in the period would seem to put the Panthers fans in attendance at BankAtlantic Center in a stage of unease. But, when all was said and done, you could only guess that New Jersey wouldnt score with a man advantage and shortly after the teams were back at even strength. This period was frightning, very frightning... Big saves needed to be made over and over and over again when Brodeur's defense collapsed in front of him, only having to bail himself out time and time again. One player i'd like to point out in the 1OT period who showed veteren experience was Petr Sykora. He'll most likely go unnoticed after last night/this morning's game due to the hype over the GWG, but, in the first sudden death OT, Sykky was able to race back, trailing Bergenehim and Versteeg on two seperate plays to pull off a successful backcheck, knocking the puck loose when defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Peter Harrold could not keep up with the Florida snipers. Kudos to Sykora. Brodeur, like the 1st period would stop all 12 shots faced resulting in no goals while Jose Theodore shut down 9 of 9. TIE, GAME... DOUBLE OVERTIME.
With this sudden death period beginning quarter after midnight here on the East Coast, I was HOPING AND PRAYING it would be wrapped up quick, and in favor of the Devils, of course, since I have class at 7:00am Friday morning... It sure seems as though someone heard me up there as this period would be no more than 4 minutes in length! With 1 shot taken, it'd be wrapped up! The night! The game! The series! The Panthers! ALL FINISHED! Opening AND closing the scoring for the game, Adam Henrique! ADAM HENRIQUE! The Devils win 3-2 in double OT over the Florida Panthers! After catching the puck and dropping it to the ice surface, a nifty little wrister would find a gap between the pads of Jose Three-or-more sealing Florida's fate. Henrique, The Exterminator with a quick usage of Rat-B-Gone on a wrister 5Hole would win it for the Dev's!
New Jersey would prevail! 4 games to 3. Emergence as a threat and a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as the Devils' next opponent is not all that of an unfamiliar foe. The Broad Street Bullies, in the City of Brotherly Love, I can promise you this much, there sure as HELL wont be any "brotherly love" in this Atlantic Division rivalry matchup in the 2nd round of the playoffs. New Jersey's playoff schedule is as follows:
Game 1: Sunday, April 29th- 3:00pm, @ PHI
Game 2: Tuesday, May 1st- 7:30pm, @ PHI
Game 3: Thursday, May 3rd- 7:30pm, NJ
Game 4: Saturday, May 6th- 7:30pm, NJ
Game 5*: @PHI
Game 6*: NJ
Game 7*: @PHI
* If necessary
(Game 4, Saturday May 6th, will be Martin Brodeur's 40th birthday)
My prediction for this series will go as follows: New Jersey taking Game 1, Game 3, Game 4, and Game 6, dropping Games 2 & 5. Im not a Bryz-liever, im just not. To be honest, I dont think Philadelphia is as good of a team as everyone makes them out to be, especially going from the net out. Their forwards are ALWAYS a threat, but as for Bryzgalov, in the Quarterfinals, I feel as though he was faced up against a goaltender (Marc-Andre Fleury) who's head was all scrambled, a series which saw over 50 goals in 6 games, a 10-3 Pittsburgh victory in Game 5, the goaltending was WELL above par in that series and I dont feel as though Mr. Universe will be able to contend with the veteran experience of Brodeur. Devils in 6 is my prediction.
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