It had been a while since the Panthers built a two-goal lead in a game so excuse them if they didn’t know how to react.
On Saturday afternoon, the Panthers pounced on the host Devils by scoring twice off their first four shots of the game.
New Jersey answered those two goals a few times over, taking the lead for good in the second period before winning 6-2 at Prudential Center.
Although it looks as if the Panthers have given up, defenseman Brian Campbell says they have not. The team, he says, may not be fighting for a playoff spot but has plenty to play for.
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“I would hope not, I know I haven’t [quit],” said Campbell, whose team has lost five straight while being outscored 27-8.
“There are a lot of guys playing for jobs here — and I’m not just talking about the young kids. You want to rise up, play more minutes. Some of the guys we have in the lineup, I don’t think, have solidified their spot with their play.”
Coach Kevin Dineen spoke about his team’s complacency in the wake of the rapid end of this season. The Panthers are dead last in the entire league with 32 points, with four games left.
Florida will end the 2013 season Saturday night in Tampa.
“It was very sloppy as we work toward Game No. 48,” Dineen said. “Our commitment to defense has waned and hasn’t been strong enough. We’re too easy to play against. Hence, we’ve given up five, six goals throughout the road trip.”
With the win, the Devils kept their extremely slim playoff hopes alive.
New Jersey, which bounced the Panthers out of the opening round last year before losing in the Finals to Los Angeles, is six behind the Rangers with four games left and could have been eliminated had Florida’s early lead held up.
Florida, meanwhile, at times looks like a team that would rather be anywhere else but on the ice.
On Saturday, defensive lapses and sloppy puck play helped lead to the attack on goalie Jacob Markstrom.
The Devils were being outshot 4-0 by the Panthers when Brian Campbell scored to make it 2-0 with 12:55 left in the first. New Jersey then scored five goals on 22 shots to take a 5-2 lead into the third.
By the time Darius Zubrus deflected Adam Larsson’s shot in the third to make it 6-2, the Panthers had been outshot 32-9 and outscored 6-0 during that span.
“They started coming back halfway through the first and we made way too many mistakes,” said Marcel Goc, who scored at 6:11 in to give Florida its first 1-0 lead since April 2. “That’s a very good team that plays structured, keeps coming at you. We need to play like that. We need to stay the course.”
THIS AND THAT
The Panthers wore specially made ‘617’ decals on their helmets to honor the victims and first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Florida will wear the decals, which represent Boston’s main area code written in Red Sox classic font, Sunday against the Bruins.
• Florida’s penalty kill rate continues to give up goals as New Jersey scored on one of its three power play chances — although Zubrus’ goal came eight seconds after Tomas Kopecky’s slashing penalty expired.
The Panthers’ kill rate of 72.8 percent is by far worst in the league and could end up being the worst in the NHL in a very long time.
League records go back to the 1997-98 season and no team has had worse than a 74.6 percent (Toronto in 2009-10) rate. Florida hasn’t finished last in the league in killing off penalties since 1997-98 (79.6 percent).
Florida’s power play remains in the top 10 in the league as it went 1-for-2 (Goc) on Saturday.
Peter Mueller missed his third straight game Saturday as he remains back in South Florida after his wife Taylar gave birth to a son on Wednesday.
Mueller is not expected to join the team in time for Sunday’s game at Boston.