By HOWARD BERGER
SUNRISE, Fla. (Apr. 27) – In the the second intermission of last night’s deciding playoff encounter between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers, I passed Bryan McCabe in the press box at BankAtlantic Center. “Is this 2012 or 1995?” came a rhetorical question from the former Maple Leafs defenseman, now working in various capacities for Florida general manager Dale Tallon. Any person having watched hockey in the past 20 years would have instantly understood McCabe’s reference, as New Jersey had thrown up its famed defensive wall in the neutral zone after building a 2-0 lead over the Panthers – frustrating the near-sellout crowd and prompting it to boo the home side off the ice after 40 minutes.
As such, an observer wagering on the events of the third period would have left the arena with quite a bank-roll. Undisciplined penalties led to a rare Devils collapse – Florida connecting twice on the powerplay, with Marcel Goc tying the game at 16:32 and forcing overtime. After one scoreless period, prize-rookie Adam Henrique took a pass from ex-Leaf Alexei Ponikarovski and beat Jose Theodore with a low shot at 3:47 of the second extra frame, allowing New Jersey to escape into the Eastern Conference semifinals and a match-up with Philadelphia. The series-winning goal occurred just after 12:15 this morning, as the game – to accommodate TV – began at 8:30 p.m. EDT (Rangers and Ottawa had faced off at 7). In all my years covering the NHL, I do not remember a game starting at 8:30, local time.
“HEY, ADAM… SCORE THE DAMNED WINNER, WILL YOU? IT’S GETTING LATE.” FOR ALL WE KNOW, DEFENSEMAN ANDY GREENE (6 ABOVE) COULD HAVE BEEN PASSING SUCH WORD TO TEAMMATE ADAM HENRIQUE (14) BEFORE A FACE-OFF IN THE NEW JERSEY ZONE; FLORIDA’S KRIS VERSTEEG WAITING PATIENTLY. SECONDS LATER, HENRIQUE BEAT JOSE THEODORE WITH A LOW SHOT TO END THE MATCH AT 3:47 OF DOUBLE-OVERTIME AND VAULT THE DEVILS INTO ROUND 2 OF THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, AGAINST PHILADELPHIA.
And, so ends the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament. As per almost every year, the ensuing rounds have a difficult act to follow, though the Rangers provided a semblance of order with their narrow, Game 7 triumph over Ottawa last night. The Cup, therefore, goes through the Big Apple, as the Blueshirts are the top-remaining team from the regular season, having finished second to Vancouver in the overall standings.
Theoretically, the four remaining Eastern clubs have an advantage over their Western rivals in the realm of wear and tear. Newark and Philadelphia are one hour apart by bus, while the Rangers and Washington Capitals will have to endure arduous 40-minute flights. Out west, flying time between St. Louis and Los Angeles is virtually identical to that of Nashville and Phoenix (3 1/2-to-4 hours). So, travel could take its toll on the West survivor in the Stanley Cup final. That, of course, pre-supposes form and logic – neither of which prevailed in the opening round.
Your trusty correspondent will fly up to St. Louis later today for Games 1 and 2 of the Blues-Kings West semifinal. Either club could provide fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs (those that rationalize, anyway) a further nightmare by winning the title this spring. Though neither St. Louis nor Los Angeles were yet part of the NHL when the Leafs won their 1967 Stanley Cup, long-suffering followers of the Blue and White insist on grouping all three when discussing the longest championship drought; theory being that none of the Leafs, Blues or Kings have won the Cup since they were first eligible to compete together – in the spring of 1968. One thing we can tell you for certain: if a Western team prevails in the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament, it will mark a franchise-first.
My lofty predictions for Round 2: EAST: New York Rangers over Washington in 6. Philadelphia over New Jersey in 6. WEST: Los Angeles over St. Louis in 7. Nashville over Phoenix in 7. Now, my photo-review of Game 7 here in Florida last night:
IT WAS AN ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS DAY TO APPROACH THE ATLANTIC COAST OF FLORIDA (ABOVE) AND MY AIR CANADA FLIGHT FROM TORONTO BARRELED WAY OUT OVER THE EVERGLADES (BELOW) BEFORE TURNING BACK TOWARD HOLLYWOOD-FORT LAUDERDALE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.
THE BANKATLANTIC CENTER (ABOVE) AS VIEWED FROM MY HOTEL.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL HOCKEY SCENE (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON A SPECTACULAR, LATE-APRIL EVENING HERE IN THE SUNSHINE STATE.
AN UNUSUAL SIGHT, INDEED (TO THESE EYES, ANYWAY): PARKING LOTS FILLING UP FOR A HOCKEY GAME AT THE BANKATLANTIC CENTER WITH RABID FANS (OF BOTH TEAMS) TAIL-GATING BEFORE ENTERING THE ARENA.
GIVEN THE 8:30 P.M. START, THE SETTING-SUN CAST A GLOW ON THE BANKATLANTIC CENTER (ABOVE) AND AN ADJACENT SWAMP (BELOW).
ARENA FILLS UP FOR PRE-GAME ACTIVITY (ABOVE) AND THE NATIONAL ANTHEM (BELOW).
REFEREE DAN O’ROURKE GETS SET TO DROP THE PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN TRAVIS ZAJAC OF NEW JERSEY AND STEPHEN WEISS OF FLORIDA.
VETERAN JOHN MADDEN WAS CUT EARLY IN THE GAME AND HELPED OFF THE ICE TO BE STITCHED UP. WARRIOR THAT HE IS, MADDEN RETURNED, BUT PLAYED SPARINGLY.
AS IS CUSTOM IN A GAME 7, TEMPERS WERE A BIT SHORT (ABOVE) BUT REFEREES O’ROURKE AND CHRIS ROONEY DID A GOOD JOB CONTROLLING THE MATCH.
KRIS VERSTEEG AND PENDING FREE-AGENT ZACH PARISE (ABOVE) – ONE A FORMER LEAF; THE OTHER A FUTURE LEAF IN THE DREAMS OF THOSE THAT FOLLOW THE BLUE AND WHITE.
PATRICK ELIAS OF THE DEVILS VENTURED CLOSE TO THE FLORIDA NET (AS PER HIS CAREER CUSTOM) AND LATER TOOK A GOOD WHACK FOR SUCH TEMERITY.
AS IN MOST GAMES, TORONTO NATIVE DAVID CLARKSON (ABOVE) WAS A FACTOR ALL NIGHT – DRAWING AN ASSIST ON THE DEVILS FIRST GOAL AND THE DOUBLE-O.T. WINNER.
HAD A NICE CHAT IN THE PRESS BOX WITH FORMER LEAFS DEFENSEMAN BRYAN McCABE (ABOVE), WHO IS WORKING HIS WAY UP THE MANAGEMENT CHAIN WITH THE PANTHERS.
NEW JERSEY TOOK A 2-0 LEAD (ABOVE) ON A GOAL BY STEPHEN GIONTA MIDWAY THROUGH THE SECOND PERIOD AND BEGAN TO THROW A DEFENSIVE BLANKET OVER THE PANTHERS.
HEAD COACH KEVIN DINEEN (ABOVE-RIGHT) AND ASSISTANT CRAIG RAMSAY WATCH PLAY BEHIND THE FLORIDA BENCH, WHILE KRIS VERSTEEG WONDERS IF THE VIDEO-BOARD ABOVE CENTER-ICE IS SHOWING HIM SPLASHING WATER ON HIS NECK.
THERE WAS ALMOST NOTHING TO DO FOR MARTIN BRODEUR (ABOVE AND BELOW) IN THE SECOND PERIOD, AS FLORIDA WAS HELD TO A MEASLY TWO SHOTS ON GOAL, DRAWING JEERS FROM THE RESTLESS HOME CROWD.
FLORIDA TRIED TO MOVE THE PUCK THROUGH THE NEUTRAL ZONE (ABOVE) BUT WITH VIRTUALLY NO SUCCESS AGAINST THE LEGENDARY DEVILS’ TRAP.
ZAJAC AND WEISS FACED OFF (ABOVE) TO BEGIN A SURPRISING THIRD PERIOD.
ACTIVITY AROUND BRODEUR PICKED UP, BIG-TIME, IN THE THIRD (ABOVE AND BELOW).
THE DEVILS’ GOALIE WAS BRIEFLY SHAKEN UP (ABOVE AND BELOW) WHEN TOMAS KOPECKY OF THE PANTHERS FELL ON HIM, INCURRING THE WRATH OF HIS TEAMMATES.
FLORIDA THOUGHT IT HAD FINALLY BROKEN THROUGH EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD WHEN THE PUCK CROSSED THE NEW JERSEY GOAL-LINE (ABOVE-LEFT), BUT THE PLAY WAS NULLIFIED BY A GOALTENDER-INTERFERENCE PENALTY ON SHAWN MATTHIAS.
THE PANTHERS KEPT COMING, HOWEVER, AND FINALLY LIT THE LAMP BEHIND BRODEUR (ABOVE) WHEN STEPHEN WEISS CONNECTED ON THE POWERPLAY AT 5:02 OF THE THIRD.
HAVING SAT ON ITS COLLECTIVE HANDS IN THE SECOND PERIOD, THE FLORIDA FAITHFUL CAME ALIVE (ABOVE) AFTER WEISS PUT THE HOME TEAM ON THE BOARD.
BANKATLANTIC CENTER EXPLODED IN JOY (ABOVE) WHEN MARCEL GOC BEAT BRODEUR FOR THE GAME-TYING GOAL AT 16:32 OF THE THIRD PERIOD, THOUGH THERE WAS AN OBVIOUS QUESTION WHETHER KOPECKY HAD INTERFERED WITH THE DEVILS’ GOALIE. AFTER A QUICK REVIEW BY THE “WAR-ROOM” IN TORONTO, HOWEVER, THE GOAL STUCK AND THE GAME (AND SERIES) HEADED TO OVERTIME.
ANXIOUS FANS AT THE BANKATLANTIC CENTER REMAINED ON THEIR FEET (ABOVE) DURING THE ENTIRE 23 MINUTES AND 47 SECONDS OF OVERTIME IN GAME 7.
THOUGH FLORIDA HAD TO KILL OFF A DUMB SLASHING PENALTY TO KRIS VERSTEEG EARLY IN THE FIRST EXTRA SESSION, FEW SCORING CHANCES RESULTED FOR EITHER TEAM AND THE GAME ENTERED A FIFTH PERIOD.
AT 3:47 OF DOUBLE-OVERTIME, ADAM HENRIQUE’S LOW SHOT ELUDED JOSE THEODORE (ABOVE), TOUCHING OFF A WILD NEW JERSEY CELEBRATION AT CENTER-ICE AND ALONG THE NEAR BOARDS (BELOW).
THE PANTHERS WAITED DEJECTEDLY (ABOVE) TO SHAKE HANDS WITH BRODEUR AND THE TRIUMPHANT DEVILS (BELOW), WHO NOW FACE PHILADELPHIA IN THE EAST SEMIFINALS.
AMID A SHOWER OF PLASTIC RODENTS, THE GAME HEROES – HENRIQUE AND BRODEUR – WERE INTERVIEWED AFTERWARD ON THE ICE – RAY FERRARO OF TSN CONDUCTING THE CHAT WITH BROADEUR (BELOW-RIGHT).
ARENA WORKERS COLLECTED THE ERSATZ RODENTS (ABOVE) AND THOUGH A SMALL GROUP OF DEVILS’ WORSHIPERS LINGERED BY THE GLASS, THE ARENA CLEARED OUT (BELOW) RATHER QUICKLY – AND QUIETLY.
IT’S NOW ON TO ROUND 2 OF THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS.
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