NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Travis Zajac scored at 5:39 of overtime and the New Jersey Devils avoided elimination and sent yet another Eastern Conference first-round series to a seventh game with a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
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 a mob scene on the ice.
Clemmensen was outstanding, stopping 39 shots in an emergency start for the injured Jose Theodore. Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim tallied for Florida, which was looking for its first series win since 1996.
Game 7 will be played in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday.
Two other series in the conference are also headed to Game 7s. Washington will be at second-seeded Boston on Wednesday and Ottawa will be at the top-seeded Rangers on Thursday.
The Panthers had a chance in a scramble in front of Brodeur 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 outshot Florida 42-16 in a game played before a sellout crowd.
Despite being outshot 29-10 in the opening 40 minutes, the Panthers rallied from a 2-0 deficit and entered the third period tied at 2-all.
The remarkable aspect was that the Panthers took only four shots in the second period and tallied on the two of the first three.
Versteeg cut the deficit to 2-1 at 7:05 of the period. 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.
Kovalchuk gave the Devils a 2-0 lead earlier in the period, 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.
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 of the period.
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