NEWARK, N.J. – During the course of a season, New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer draws up hundreds of faceoff plays in practice or on the bench.
“Rarely do they work,” DeBoer said. “Either you lose the draw or you don’t get a bounce.”
The unexpected happened Saturday night.
Marek Zidlicky scored with 2.1 seconds showing on the overtime clock after a late timeout by DeBoer and a faceoff win by Travis Zajac to lift the Devils to a stirring 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
Jaromir Jagr also played a big part in the win, nudging the faceoff win with just over three seconds to play to Zidlicky at the top of the right circle for a shot into the top corner of the net past Tim Thomas.
“Pete drew it up, that if I can get it to Jags, he was going to slide it to Zid for a one-timer,” Zajac said. “What you saw was what he wanted us to do. Everyone executed their part. It was the perfect setup, really. I was lucky.”
Zidlicky was perfect with his shot for his eighth goal of the season, the one that helped New Jersey avoid a shootout. The Devils have lost their last 10 shootouts, one shy of the NHL record recently set by Detroit.
“That was a great draw, and a great pass. That’s where it all started … and I just took the shot,” Zidlicky said after the Devils finished a 2-0-1 homestand. “That was the perfect setup for us. We try it all the time, and a lot of times it doesn’t work. Tonight, it did.”
Jagr joked that he never got a chance to congratulate Zidlicky because his Czech countryman skated away to hog the glory. The play was good, though.
“Just go take a look at the board over there,” Jagr said. “It happened just the way we drew it up. It’ll probably never happen that way again. It happened exactly the way we wanted to do it. The key was the faceoff. It started with Travis.”
Jagr earned his 1,724th NHL point, moving him ahead of former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux and into seventh place on the league’s career scoring list.
Panthers coach Peter Horaceck was more disappointed with his team for its overall play in the game rather than the late goal, which he said was a great shot.
“It wasn’t very good,” he said. “We didn’t deserve anything, and we got a point for something we didn’t deserve. We didn’t play very well. They outplayed us most of the game.”
Still, the late goal was tough on a night in which Thomas was outstanding in making 34 saves.
“This is about as bad as it gets,” Panthers goal scorer Nick Bjugstad said. “Five seconds. That puck had eyes and went in. What are you going to do? I saw out there I had to block that shot.”
Michael Ryder extended his goal streak to four games, and Cory Schneider made 29 saves in giving New Jersey its second straight win.
With both teams in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference and needing points, the third period was wide open despite the 1-1 tie.
Both teams had great chances, but Thomas and Schneider stopped them on the doorstep.
Thomas’ best saves in the period came on a deflection by Reid Boucher and a stuff attempt by Ryane Clowe in the final two minutes.
Schneider denied a power-play chance early in the period by Tomas Kopecky, and a shot by Sean Bergenheim with 9.2 seconds left in regulation.
Ryder gave the Devils a 1-0 lead with his team-high 16th goal late in the first period. Thomas made a couple of good stops but the Panthers had trouble clearing their zone. Defenceman Erik Gudbranson tried to carry the puck around the net, but Clowe stripped him of the puck and found Ryder alone in front.
Florida tied it about a minute after Thomas robbed Adam Henrique on a rebound attempt that prevented New Jersey from taking a two-goal lead.
A Panthers’ counterattack produced the tying goal. Scottie Upshall carried the puck up the right boards and gave it to Bjugstad. He found Tomas Fleischmannn, who sent a pass in front that Bjugstad redirected into the upper corner of the net past Schneider.
Schneider stopped breakaways by Upshall and Kopecky in the first two periods. Thomas had at least a half dozen good saves, including stopping a short-handed breakaway by Ryan Carter early in the third.
Schneider also got a break when a shot by Brian Campbell hit of the post during a power play.
NOTES: Former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal dropped the puck during a ceremonial opening faceoff. … The Panthers’ three lineup scratches, C Scott Gomez, D Mike Mottau and F Krys Barch, are all former Devils. … Clowe has assists in three straight games. … Florida went 1-1-1 on its three-game road trip.