The last time the Devils visited Sunrise, the game went late into the night, Adam Henrique winning it with a goal in the second overtime.
Saturday’s game between the Devils and Florida didn’t carry the same weight as Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals for sure. But for the Panthers, this one will have to do.
Dmitry Kulikov got the Panthers at least a small measure of revenge Saturday as he beat Martin Brodeur with an overtime slap shot to give the Panthers a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.
Kulikov’s shot ensured Shawn Matthias’ second two-goal night in a row wouldn’t be in vain as Florida won in overtime — not counting two shootout wins — for the first time this season. The Panthers have won two in a row as Thursday’s win over Buffalo came in a shootout.
“It feels good to get a win against the Devils,” said Kulikov, who scored with 3:17 left in overtime. “We remember the loss in the playoffs last year, and they are rivals to us. We play them as a rival. Every time we play them, it’s a great game, a great battle. Everyone goes as hard as they can.’’
Said Matthias: “I’m happy with the two goals. That felt good, especially to beat them. I like beating those guys. They won a bigger game against us, but this still feels good.”
It looked like Brodeur and the Devils were going to get the Panthers again as New Jersey had won three in a row against Florida dating to last postseason.
But the Panthers came hard with Jacob Markstrom out of the net in the final minute. Matthias continues to work hard for every goal he gets as he scored with 27 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
Matthias won the faceoff deep in the New Jersey zone, then beat Brodeur on Florida’s 26th shot of the night. He gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first after camping out in front of Brodeur and redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot from the right side on a power-play chance.
“I liked our tempo in the final seven minutes after they scored their last goal,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “I felt there was a lot of belief on our bench.”
Aside from Brodeur (who is 38-18-7 in 62 starts against Florida), Steve Bernier has burned the Panthers of late as well. Bernier, who didn’t do much in his one season with the Panthers in 2010-11, has been a pain for Florida since.
Bernier, reunited with former Florida coach Pete DeBoer in New Jersey last year, scored twice Saturday to give the Devils a 2-1 advantage. Bernier’s second goal came with Matthias in the box.
For a guy who found himself getting limited minutes — who was even put on waivers — after coming to the Panthers in the Keith Ballard trade with Vancouver, Bernier has settled in nicely with the Devils and was a big part of last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Saturday’s two-goal night gives Bernier five goals in 10 games — including last year’s seven-game opening round playoff series — against the Panthers since he left Sunrise.
“We’re not quitting,” Matthias said. “We’re battling until the end.”
Defenseman Tyson Strachan has been nominated for the a national sports philanthropy award for his work with abandoned dogs — most notably with the 100+ Abandoned Dogs of the Everglades in South Florida.
Strachan and his girlfriend Kate have adopted a pair of rescue dogs — Soder, a pure-bred Italian Mastiff, and Raja, a mix Mike Santorelli said looks like a hyena — and spend plenty of time at the 100+ offices helping with the dogs rescued from the Everglades.
“I think we can create something great here,’’ said Strachan, who is up for the national humanitarian award from All Sports United. “These are great dogs who have been through a lot. They just want a nice home.”
Strachan and his girlfriend didn’t adopt their two dogs in South Florida but rescued them when he played in St. Louis. Strachan has helped foster rescue puppies found in the Everglades in differing states of duress.