The Devils made their living during the regular season with the NHL’s best penalty kill, so it was cruel irony that unit was directly responsible for the Devils’ demise Tuesday night.
The Devils’ penalty killers surrendered three goals on three power plays in their 4-3 loss to the Panthers at the Prudential Center. The Devils trail the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game 4 is Thursday night at the Rock.
“All in all, I don’t think we played a bad game,” Devil Zach Parise said. He termed the penalty kill units as “fine” despite Florida having scored six goals in 10 power play opportunities in the first three games.
“They scored on some point shots. It’s not as if they are picking our penalty kill apart,” Parise said. “We have to learn to stay out of the penalty box. It’s the only way they are generating offense, on their power play. That’s how they are scoring their goals.”
Brian Campbell’s wrister with 6:34 remaining in the second period proved to be the game-winner. Former Islander Sean Bergenheim, Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver also scored for Florida.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer pulled Brodeur for Johan Hedberg following the Weaver goal just 2:18 into second period. Brodeur surrendered three goals on 12 shots. The last time Brodeur had been replaced in a playoff game was May 6, 2006, against the Hurricanes. His replacement in that game happened to be the man who earned the win last night, Scott Clemmensen.
Brodeur and DeBoer, independent of each other, said the coach did not explain his rationale to sit the future Hall of Famer. Brodeur noted he “did not expect” to be pulled. Both said Brodeur will start Thursday night.
Hedberg turned away 13-of-14 Florida shots. His lone blemish was surrendering Campbell’s game-winner.
Almost as shocking as the failure of the penalty kill units was that the Devils, the franchise that revolutionized the how-to-play-with-a-lead approach to hockey, blew a 3-0 lead.
Goals off the sticks of Zach Parise (:33 seconds in), Stephen Gionta (3:27) and Patrik Elias (6:16) prompted Panthers coach Kevin Dineen to replace starter Jose Theodore with Clemmensen early in the first period. Theodore yielded the three goals on just six shots.
“Three-goal lead in your own rink and you lose the game. That’s unacceptable,” Parise said.
“I don’t really have an explanation [for the loss],” DeBoer said. “We’ve got to learn, as a group, how to play in that situation.”
Clemmensen stopped all 17 shots he faced, although an apparent Marek Zidlicky’s goal at 18:36 of the second period was disallowed when referees Tim Peel and Steve Kozari determined the right wing Steve Bernier had committed incidental contact with Florida’s backup netminder. Had it stood, Zidlicky would have drawn the Devils even at 4-4.
DeBoer called the decision “marginal.”
Displeased with the ruling and the three penalties levied against the Devils, the announced 17,625 in attendance offered an earsplitting, negative review of the work performed by Peel and Kozari for the remainder of the match.
The most tepid of the NHL’s eight first round series began to simmer last night. Parise was involved in conversations with Florida players all night. Bernier and Scottie Upshall traded gloved punches during a first-period scrum as Ryan Carter and Erik Gudbranson exchanged cross words while having a hold on the other’s sweater. Bergenheim had to be separated from David Clarkson following a third-period stoppage in play.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.