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Panthers' Comeback Comes Up Short

Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:31 AM ET / News
By Alain Poupart  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Panthers\' Comeback Comes Up Short
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#3  vs.  #6
Devils win series, 4-3

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers came painfully, agonizingly close to winning their first playoff series since 1996, and in their solemn and quiet dressing room they could only look back with some pride at a great comeback that came up just short.

"A lot of character in this room," center Shawn Matthias said after a 3-2 double-overtime loss to New Jersey in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. "We showed that all series. There's a lot of games we came back and battled hard. In the end, proud of all the guys in here, a great group, and proud to be a part of this team, but really wanted that one."

Down 2-0 after two periods against New Jersey on Thursday night, the Panthers drew even with a pair of power-play goals, including Marcel Goc's game-tying tally with 3:28 left in regulation.

But the Panthers' dream season, which included the first playoff berth in 12 years and the first division title in franchise history, came to an abrupt and devastating end when Adam Henrique scored at 3:47 of the second overtime.

"That's what we've done all year," said center Stephen Weiss, who finally got to experience the playoffs this year for the first time after 637 regular-season games. "We battled back. It wasn't the prettiest start to the hockey game that we wanted, but we hung in there, drew some penalties, found a way to get back in the hockey game. It would have been nice to keep the momentum going and follow it up with a third one, but they got it first."

As they had in four of the first six games of the series, the Panthers found themselves playing from behind Thursday. There actually was little reason to think they could come back after a second period during which they managed only two shots.

But the Panthers responded by firing 19 shots at Martin Brodeur in the third period. That total easily was Florida's highest of the series for any period, beating the previous high of 12 in the second period of Game 5.

The 19 shots also were three more than the Panthers' total for all of Game 6.

"[What] I felt, as I have so many times this year, is our team proves their resiliency by the way that there's not a lot of give-up," first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have a lot of belief in ourselves. We have to get a little more stability at the beginning of our game and stick with the formula that works and be the ones applying the pressure instead of receiving it, which was fairly obvious in the first period. Once we got that strengthened, it was obvious that it was an even series, even game, even in overtime it comes down to bounces, and that was the difference in the game."

To get something going offensively in the third period, Dineen juggled his lines. Scottie Upshall moved from the third line to replace Tomas Fleischmann on the top line with Weiss and Kris Versteeg. Fleischmann joined Tomas Kopecky and Matthias on another line.

But the scoring, as it did for most of the series for the Panthers, came courtesy of the power play.

Florida went 2-for-4 with the man advantage to end the series at 9-for-27. The 33.3 success rate was more than three times better than what opponents managed against New Jersey during the regular season when the Devils set a modern-era record by killing off 89.6 percent of opposition power plays while allowing just 27 goals.

"We knew that was going to have to be good for us to compete in this series," said Weiss, who scored his third power-play goal of the series at 5:02 of the third period to make it 2-1. "When we had chances, we had to capitalize and we did that tonight. We get one with three minutes left and Gotchie's line goes out and gets a big goal to tie it up. We just had to continue to keep battling and try to get one in the overtime obviously, but it wasn't to be."

Florida's comeback was even more impressive considering it came after the Panthers had an apparent goal disallowed at 1:50 of the third period.

Fleischmann put the puck in the net after Brodeur stopped Mike Weaver's shot from the point, but the goal was disallowed because Matthias was penalized for goaltender interference on the play.

Matthias said the only reason he crashed into Brodeur was because he was pushed from behind by a Devils defender.

"I don't know how I got a penalty out of that," Matthias said. "But I haven't seen it. We still came back and tied it up, so you can't be too upset about that goal not being allowed. Who knows? It's hockey. You've got to forget about those plays. But you have to remember this feeling right here."

That feeling was one of disappointment for Matthias and his teammates.

But they also had every right to feel proud of their never-say-die attitude.

"We saw a little bit of the true identity of the Panthers and what we call Panthers hockey toward the end," Dineen said. "It was a lot of pressure. To get in the intangible part, there was a lot of passion and emotion and we fed off the crowd. It made for a very enthusiastic evening that didn't end well."

Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

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