New Jersey’s Travis Zajac scored the overtime winner as the Devils beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday, sending their NHL Eastern Conference first-round playoff series to a deciding seventh game.
Steve Bernier and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored and Martin Brodeur made 14 saves for New Jersey, which squandered a two-goal lead and had fans dreading another first-round playoff exit until Zajac scored from the right-hand circle.
The shot beat Scott Clemmensen to the lower corner and set off delirium on the ice.
Clemmensen was otherwise outstanding, stopping 39 shots in an emergency start for the injured Jose Theodore.
Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim tallied for Florida, which is looking for its first series win since 1996.
Game 7 will be played at Florida today.
Two other series in the conference are also headed to Game 7s. Washington was at second-seeded Boston yesterday and Ottawa will be at the top-seeded Rangers today.
The Devils had a big territorial advantage in the final 10 minutes of the first period and it finally paid off, when Bernier beat Clemmensen with a bad-angle shot at 16:37 minutes of the period.
Kovalchuk gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead, slam-dunking a pass from Zajac into the net with four seconds left on a power play. It was his third goal of the series.
Versteeg cut the deficit to 2-1. Stephen Weiss centered the puck from along the left sideboards and Versteeg’s shot hit off the skate of Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, and into the open side of the net. Brodeur never had a chance.
The tying goal came at 12:49 after the referees ignored a slash by Bergenheim that knocked Kovalchuk to the ice. It led to a 4-on-2 rush. Brodeur made the initial stop on a shot from the between the circles by Tyson Strachan, but Bergenheim came late and tucked the rebound into an open net with teammate Marcel Goc hanging on the crossbar.
The Panthers had a chance to score the overtime winner just before Zajac’s goal.
However, Zajac pulled the puck away from the crease and led a rush up ice. Zach Parise took his cross-ice pass and gave the puck to Kovalchuk, who found Zajac skating down the right wing for a shot along the ice into the net.
The Devils deserved the win, outshooting Florida 42-16.