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Devils-Panthers: A Colossal Collapse in Newark



For the Devils, Thursday night cannot come soon enough.
 
That’s because Tuesday evening was nothing less than a nightmare on Mulberry Street. Everything that possibly could go wrong -- including a blown first period three-goal lead – did for the home club, culminating with a 4-3 Panthers win.
 
“We can’t blow a three-goal lead,” captain Zach Parise said. “We started off great but that cannot happen.”
 
As a result Florida now leads the first round series two games to one. Perhaps even worse, the Devils completely disintegrated in what once was their key area, the penalty kill.
 
The Panthers cashed on three power play goals on their first three attempts to turn the game by 180 degrees. After a three-for-three night on the PP, the Cats are now six-for-ten with the man advantage in the series.
 
“It started with me, I took a stupid penalty,” Patrik Elias said, referring to his first period unsportsmanlike conduct minor. “Obviously they got a goal and the momentum shifted to their side.”
 
In addition, the Devils exhibited a failure to win face-offs on both their power play and on the penalty kill. What’s more, team discipline went out the window after the Devs took the three-goal lead.
 
“Five-on-five we are playing well against them,” Elias added. “It’s discipline – we need to stay out of the box.”
 
Adding insult to defeat, what would have been the Devils tying goal authored by Marek Zidlicky late in the second period was disallowed as Steve Bernier was pushed by Florida defenseman Ed Jovanovski into Scott Clemmensen.
 
“All I know is that I was hit from behind and went down and thought we had a goal,” said Bernier.
 
On top of that Mr. Goalie, Martin Brodeur, was unceremoniously yanked early in the second period as coach Peter DeBoer attempted to stop the bleeding with backup Johan (Moose) Hedberg.

Among other things DeBoer must become shrink-for-a-day and figure a way to regain his team’s collapsed confidence.
 
He’ll also have to go back to the drawing board and tighten the screws on his loose defense.
 
Among the irony of ironies was the fact that Florida coach Kevin Dineen yanked his starter Jose Theodore, replacing him with Brodeur’s former caddie, Clemmensen.
 
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, it’s the playoffs,” Clemmensen said. “I’ve always been there as a contributor.”
 
Here’s how the Devils collapsed from a three-goal advantage – which came courtesy of first period goals from Parise, Stephen Gionta and Elias -- to an irrevocable one-goal defeat:
 
The Clemmer immediately launched the Panthers comeback with a power play pass that catapulted Sean Bergenheim down the left lane from where he put a stoppable shot over Brodeur’s shoulder on the short side.
 
Incredibly, the “dreaded” three-goal lead was reduced from three, to two, to one when the Cats made mince meat out of the formerly flawless Devils penalty killing.
 
This time it was defenseman Jason Garrison who extracted another man-advantage goal with only seven seconds remaining in the first period.
 
“I don’t we think we took our foot off the pedal,” Parise explained. “That wasn’t the case, I can’t sit here and tell you we played bad.”
 
Brodeur’s night ended minutes into the second frame after the Devils failed to clear the zone.
 
“I thought the change might alter the momentum,” explained DeBoer. “It worked for Florida and I thought it was a good time for us to do it.”
 
Mike Weaver’s snap shot from the point went through Marty at 2:18 to tie the game. From there, DeBoer inserted Hedberg between the pipes.
 
But Florida pounced on the power play moments later.
 
Brian Campbell skated into the slot and shot the puck past Hedberg’s right arm to give the Panthers the eventual game-winner at 6:34.
 
The Devils pressured Clemmensen with help from an extra-attacker late in the third, but the tying goal never came.
 
“We can’t keep coming from behind, especially against these guys,” Weaver said. “We have to keep working hard and worry about us and our team.”
 
Once upon a time, not that long ago, there was a feeling in the Eastern Conference that Florida was the team to play to meet in the playoffs. The Panthers, it was said, supposedly would be easy pickings; even for the Devils.
 
Try telling that now to DeBoer and his skaters.
 
Nobody’s patsies, the Panthers – who seem to enjoy coming back from first period three-goal deficits -- smote New Jersey for the second game in a row to give the Devils big concerns for Game Four.  
 
The big question: Does DeBoer start Brodeur or go with The Moose on Thursday?
 
The coach answered the question in advance: “Marty will start for us.”

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