NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Brian Campbell scored on a second-period power play and the Florida Panthers staged their greatest playoff comeback in franchise history, rallying from an early three-goal deficit to defeat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Tuesday night.
Sean Bergenheim, Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver also scored and Scott Clemmensen made 19 saves after replacing Jose Theodore early in giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference first-round series.
Game 4 will be played here on Thursday.
Florida converted on all three of its power plays against the league’s top-ranked penalty kill unit, and is now 6 of 10 in the series with the man advantage.
Zach Parise, Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias scored for the Devils, who jumped out 3-0 in the opening 6:16.
The Panthers ended a 15-year playoff drought in winning Game 2 on Sunday and they got rid of another demon on Tuesday when they drove Martin Brodeur from the net after tying the game early in the second.
Campbell got the game winner on the Panthers’ third and final power play, and like most of the goals, it came on a shot from the point that got past Johan Hedberg.
New Jersey thought it tied the game late in the second period on a Marek Zidlicky shot but it was waved off for incidental contact with Clemmensen.
The Devils buzzed around the Florida net in the closing minutes but Clemmensen stopped David Clarkson on a shot from the circle with about a minute to go and Parise misfired on a shot between the circles with the net open in the closing 20 seconds.
The Panthers seemingly were out of the game until Elias took a very foolish unsportsmanlike minor for a late hit after an icing call against the Devils.
Florida was 3 of 7 with the extra man in the first two games of the series and they only got better in Game 3.
Scottie Upshall banged a long pass off the ends boards from center ice and Bergenheim raced in, collected the puck and beat Brodeur with a perfect shot into the upper corner of the net with 3:49 left in the period to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Before the period ended, it was a one-goal game, and again the power play was the difference.
Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador was sent off for roughing with just under two minutes left in the period and Garrison beat Brodeur with a shot from about 10 feet inside the blue line.
Florida needed only 2:18 into the second period to tie the game and again Elias helped the Panthers.
Jerred Smithson, who was inserted into the line for the game, deflected a clearing attempt by Elias along the left boards and the puck went cross ice to Weaver. His 40-foot shot went into the net with Upshall screening Brodeur, who was lifted after the play, ending his shortest stint in a playoff game.
The Devils had a couple of pucks slide by the goal and had one apparent tally waved off by referee Tim Peel late in the second period. Steve Bernier fell into Clemmensen moments before a point shot by Zidicky hit off the goaltender and went into the net.
Peel never hesitated in waving off the goal, while at the time saying the incidental contact did not merit a penalty.
The Devils almost ran the Panthers out of the Prudential Center in the opening 6:16 of the first period, scoring three times on six shots and forcing Florida coach Kevin Dineen to insert Clemmensen for a shellshocked Theodore, who was hung out to dry by his teammates.
Parise, who had failed to score in the first two games despite getting 12 shots, scored on his first shift just 33 seconds after the opening faceoff. Theodore was handcuffed on a shot from the boards by Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils captain eventually collected the loose puck and ripped a shot into an open net, igniting a roar from the sellout crowd that was barley in its seats.
Gionta, a late-season call up from Albany, stretched the advantage to two goals at 3:27, deflecting a point shot by Marek Zidlicky into the net.
The rout seemed in full gear at 6:16 when Elias scored into an open net after a scramble in front.
Little did anyone realize, the Devils would not celebrate again.
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