NEWARK, N.J. – Rostislav Olesz and the Florida Panthers ended a lengthy road trip with a hard-fought win that may help their playoff prospects.
Olesz scored two minutes into overtime to give the Panthers a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
Olesz got the winner on a sharp-angle shot from the bottom of the right circle that slipped past Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg.
Chris Higgins, Dennis Wideman and Mike Santorelli also scored for the Panthers, 2-3-4 in their last nine games. It was the final stop on a season-high six-game road trip where Florida went 2-3-1.
With the win, Florida moved five points behind eighth-place Atlanta with two games in hand in the fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we deserved that,” Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. “We haven’t gotten a lot of bounces around the net on this road trip.
“We’re in the playoff mix.”
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire agreed.
“They’re up there with the other teams fighting for a playoff spot,” Lemaire said. “They sustain a lot of intensity in their games. They move the puck well.
“They have a good power play. They have a lot of good stuff.”
And they had the perseverance to come back twice in a game where the bounces seemed to all be going New Jersey’s way.
Florida cooled off the Devils, who are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games. Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott and Mark Fayne scored for New Jersey.
Higgins opened the scoring at 6:52, backhanding Steve Bernier’s rebound past Hedberg.
The Devils scored the next two goals thanks to lucky bounces off the boards.
Zajac pulled New Jersey even with an unassisted tally at 8:52, capping a sequence that started with Vokoun sweeping the puck into the corner. Panthers defenceman Jason Garrison tried for a clear around the boards, only to have the puck take a weird bounce off the glass into the slot where Zajac tapped it home.
The Devils went up 2-1 as Arnott banked the rebound of Henrik Tallinder’s point shot that deflected wide of the net. The puck again bounded New Jersey’s way, hopping off the boards right to Arnott.
Wideman pulled the Panthers even at 12:35 with a power-play tally on a point shot with Michael Frolik providing a screen in front of Hedberg.
Fayne broke the deadlock at 6:20 of the second, chipping in a high shot from the blueline. Devils forward Nick Palmieri, positioned in the slot, ducked out of the way as the puck floated past Tomas Vokoun.
“We worked hard for all our goals and they got three goals on nothing plays,” Vokoun said. “You look at their goals, and how much bad luck we had. We really battled.”
Eventually, the bounces started favouring Florida
Later in the period, both goalies made big stops on short-handed breakaways to keep the score 3-2 in favour of the Devils.
Vokoun denied Patrik Elias’s bid while Hedberg poke-checked the puck away from Marty Reasoner.
Hedberg was sharp early in the third, denying Olesz when the Panthers charged the net. He later stopped Wideman’s point shot and Reasoner’s rebound attempt.
Hedberg had no chance when Santorelli tied the game 3-3 on a short-handed breakaway at 12:52.
Santorelli picked off a pass in the Panthers zone and sped toward Hedberg, who charged out to challenge the shooter. Santorelli faked him down and out before depositing the puck into the open net.
Zajac made a strong bid for the winner in regulation, hitting the post with five minutes left.
Then it was on to overtime where Olesz came through, denying the Devils another win in their late-season revival.
“It found a space between by arm and my body, which shouldn’t happen,” Hedberg said. “I’ve got to play better.
“We’re fighting hard and I’ve got to make those saves.”
NOTES—The Panthers played their third game in four nights coming out of the all-star break. … The Devils assigned D Alexander Urbom to Albany (AHL). He was recalled Tuesday. … The Panthers scratched RW Evgeny Dadonov (broken finger). … The Devils’ scratches were D Mark Fraser and C Adam Mair. … Friday was the one-year anniversary of the trade that brought Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey from Atlanta. … Hedberg started in place of Martin Brodeur, who had played in four straight, including a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.