Panthers claw back to take series lead

Florida Panthers Mike Weaver (L), celebrates his goal with teammates Dmitry Kulikov (C), Shawn...

Florida Panthers Mike Weaver (L), celebrates his goal with teammates Dmitry Kulikov (C), Shawn Matthias and Scottie Upshall against the New Jersey Devils during second period in Game 3 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff hockey series in Newark, New Jersey, April 17, 2012. (REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:33 PM ET

NEWARK - Martin Brodeur wondered why he was pulled in a game that was tied.

Patrik Elias threw himself under the bus.

And Peter DeBoer didn’t have an explanation for his team’s stunning collapse.

The Florida Panthers? They’re the beneficiaries of the questions surrounding the New Jersey Devils, and departed the Prudential Center with a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Tuesday night.

After shrugging off a 3-0 deficit, one that the Devils built in the opening seven minutes, the Panthers found new life once goalie Jose Theodore was replaced in net by former Devil Scott Clemmensen, and have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“It doesn’t matter (that it was the Devils),” Clemmensen said. “As satisfying as the win is, it’s still just 2-1. I just had to be ready. That has been my mentality all year long, whether it is the beginning of the game or halfway through the first period.”

Clemmensen stopped all 19 shots he faced after Theodore allowed three goals on six shots 6:16 into regulation.

Brodeur was not much better as he gave up three goals on 12 shots. He was yanked in favour of Johan Hedberg after Panthers defenceman Mike Weaver, who had no goals in 82 regular-season games, scored at 2:18 of the second period to tie the game 3-3.

“A little bit,” Brodeur said when he was asked if he was surprised to get the hook at that point. “You don’t expect, when you are not losing the game, to get pulled. I don’t know exactly what (DeBoer) was thinking. I’m sure it was a good reason.

“I thought we got over-excited (with the early three-goal lead). We just have to relax and play the game. It’s still early, but you don’t want to give a team like that too much confidence.”

It was the first time since 2006 that Brodeur was relieved in a playoff game, and the man who replaced him then was Clemmensen, in his only other NHL playoff appearance. As well, it was just the sixth time in the playoffs Brodeur did not finish a game he started.

DeBoer, the Devils coach, saw the punch that the Panthers got after Florida coach Kevin Dineen made the switch and figured the same would help the Devils. But it did not, and Hedberg was beaten by Brian Campbell for the winning goal at 6:34 of the second.

Zach Parise, Stephen Gionta and Elias scored for the Devils.

Sean Bergenheim and Jason Garrison also scored for the Panthers.

“We’re up 3-0, they pulled their goalie and it was momentum-changing tactic, it worked for them,” DeBoer said. “They come back to 3-2 and they scored on their first shot of the second. At that point I have to do my job and try to get a momentum shift back in our direction and chose to do it that way.

“I don’t really have an explanation (for the collapse). I think we have to learn as a group how to play in that situation, and it starts with not taking penalties.”

Brodeur will start Game 4, DeBoer said. Dineen wouldn’t say who he will start.

Goaltending aside, that the Devils had the best penalty-killing unit in the NHL during the regular season can now be forgotten. The Panthers scored on all three of their power-play chances Tuesday, giving them six goals on 10 power plays in the series.

Elias was in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct after he pushed Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson on an icing call, and watched Bergenheim get the first Florida goal to start the comeback.

“It was a couple really bad decisions on my part and it cost us this hockey game,” Elias said. “Just a stupid play by me.”

Bergenheim said Clemmensen’s presence was vital.

“He is so calm, and that really helped our team,” Bergenheim said. “And once we calmed down, we did a much better job.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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