The Panthers kicked off a tough road trip in the New York metro area Saturday night with the most winnable game of the three.
This might not end well for them.
The Devils — who played the night before, used their lightly used backup goalie and had just 14 shots on goal — scored twice in the opening period and handcuffed Florida the rest of the way in a 3-1 victory.
New Jersey was credited with just two shots on goal in the entire second and third periods before Steve Bernier’s empty-net goal made it 3-0 with 2:32 left.
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“We have to start scoring sooner or later,” said Brandon Pirri, who scored Florida’s lone goal with 89 seconds remaining.
“One goal isn’t enough, and that’s on forwards like me who need to be scoring. Things were clogged up, yes, but there were rebounds to be had. We just need to go to the hoop. We’re not going to score the easy ones. That’s not how we’re built. We’re an ugly team and need to score ugly goals.”
The Panthers have lost six of seven heading into Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden against a Rangers team that now leads them by eight points for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As for postseason hopes, well, the Panthers might as well stop worrying about the standings for the time being.
After Saturday, Florida not only is eight back of New York and Washington (both have 60 points), but trails Boston by nine points for the top wild-card spot with 35 games remaining.
“They’re going to win because the teams in front of us are good teams,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “If we’re going to lose, we’re going to fall behind. We have to take care of ourself, our own game. And we weren’t good enough [Saturday].”
As has been their style seemingly forever, the Devils didn’t do much but play shutdown defense.
And, as historically has been the case, it was plenty good enough.
“You know how they play, and you can’t spot them two goals,” Shawn Thornton said. “For decades, they don’t give up much defensively. At the end it only matters what the score is, and we come out of here with a loss.”
New Jersey, which has secured at least a point in eight of 10 games, scored on two of its first four shots on goal in the first period (in almost 15 minutes of play) with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Cammalleri doing the honors.
Cammalleri’s goal came on a power play as he teed off on a slick through-the-skates pass from Bernier with 5:23 left in the first.
Jagr slid into the slot, and his wrister made it 1-0.
“We knew this is the game they were going to play,” said Roberto Luongo, who faced just 13 shots all night.
“They don’t give up much of anything. I enjoy a few shots to keep me sharp. That was probably the most boring game I’ve ever been a part of. … That was a bad hockey game right there.”
The Panthers held the Devils to zero shots on goal for all but the final two seconds of the second period, but New Jersey held Florida off the scoreboard, so it would gladly make that trade time and again.
As was the case in the second, the Devils played keep away from the Panthers in the third.
When Luongo stepped out of the cage to give the Panthers another attacker, the Devils pounced and sent a few toward the enticing empty net. Bernier connected on the Devils’ second shot of the third period to end things.
Florida had 27 shots on goal and 51 shot attempts to just 33 for the Devils.
“We had some good chances; it wasn’t like there wasn’t any offense,” Gallant said.
“We just didn’t capitalize on our chances. I’m not saying we played great, but we had chances in the second half of the game to get back into it.”
this and that
▪ Since holding a 3-2 series lead on the Devils in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the Panthers have won just two of eight meetings against New Jersey.
The Devils won the final two games of that series and eventually advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Devils have outscored the Panthers 8-2 in their two wins this season. The third game of the season series comes in the regular-season finale on April 11 in Sunrise.
▪ Tomas Kopecky and Jimmy Hayes were Florida’s healthy scratches. Tomas Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup.