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Kulikov's first goal leads Panthers to 3-2 OT win over Devils

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. - The last-place Florida Panthers, who were 27 seconds away from another loss, finally won in overtime - and it took a goal from someone who hadn't scored all season.

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov scored the game-winner with 3:17 left in OT to lead the Panthers past the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, Saturday night at the BB&T Center.

Fellow defenseman Brian Campbell started the winning sequence when he kept in a Devils' clearing attempt and fired a cross-ice pass to Kulikov, who buried a wrist shot.

"It's good to get my first goal out of the way," Kulikov said, "and to get a win for the team feels even better."

Florida is now 1-5 this season in overtime games, although the Panthers have won two straight games, counting Thursday's shootout victory over Buffalo.

On Saturday, the Panthers tied the score, 2-2, on the last-minute goal by Shawn Matthias, his second of the night and his 14th of the season, which represents a team high and a career best.

Florida had pulled rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom for an extra attacker at the end of regulation - and it paid off.

Matthias, who has 11 goals in the past 16 games, pounced on a rebound off a shot by Scottie Upshall. The carom bounced to the middle of the ice and gave Matthias a wide open net.

"It never gets old beating them," Matthias said of the Devils, who eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs last season by this same score - 3-2 - and at this same arena in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup. "I like beating those guys."

A lot has changed since the playoffs, however. Instead of winning their division as they did last season, the injury-plagued Panthers are in last place in the conference.

But, as they showed on Saturday, they still have some fight left in them.

"We're not quitting," Matthias said. "We may be down, but we keep battling to the end. Guys are maturing. We are young, but there is a fire under us, and we're becoming a team."

The Devils, meanwhile, are a frustrated bunch. They are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference - four points ahead of the two teams closest to overtaking them, their rivals, the Rangers and Islanders.

The last two nights, though, the Devils gave away two points by allowing late goals to a pair of Florida teams that are currently among the worst in the NHL.

On Friday, the Devils allowed a goal with 15 seconds left and lost to Tampa Bay, 5-4, in a shootout.

The Devils had seemingly won Saturday's game when Steve Bermier's power-play goal - his second tally of the night - put them up 2-1 with 12:03 left to play.

Bermier's goal was his eighth of the season. The assist went to defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who fired a slapshot that Bermier was able to tip in to beat Markstrom.

But the Panthers' rally spoiled any Devils celebration.

"Of course it's frustrating," Tallinder said in response to a question. "But what are you going to do with it? We just have to come back, work hard and make sure it doesn't happen again ... or try to make sure."

Martin Brodeur, the Devils' veteran goalie, said he thought the Panthers' Upshall was guilty of high sticking just before the goal that sent the game to overtime.

The Devils star spent a good amount of time talking to officials after regulation, voicing his displeasure.

"From my eyes, it looked like he hit it pretty high, but I guess the referee didn't think it was a high stick," Brodeur said. "I wasn't really happy about the referee's explanation - it was pretty vague. But they are always right."

Earlier in the game, Brodeur thought the Panthers got away with another penalty when they chopped his stick.

"(The referee) was right there, but because my stick didn't break in half right away, I don't think he saw it," Brodeur said. "So I turned around and showed him that it was broken. So I kind of snapped it myself. ... Another missed call there.

"It's tough. The boys are working hard. We are doing a lot of good things. It's unfortunate we are not able to close out games. Both times we are less than 30 seconds away, and we can't get it done. We don't win in overtime or a shootout.

"We keep getting points - that's the only thing positive about it. Teams around us, I don't think they won today. That makes it easier to take. But at one point, we are going to need to win hockey games."

The teams exchanged first-period goals. The Devils struck first, with 3:42 elapsed, as Bernier parked just to the right of the net and scored easily on a backhand shot. The assists went to former Panther Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta.

The Panthers tied the score on a power-play goal with 12:55 elapsed. Capitalizing on a high-sticking call on Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Panthers worked the puck with some skillful cross-ice passing that resulted in Matthias' tip-in.

NOTES: Panthers forward George Parros (upper-body injury) has been medically cleared to play. ... The Panthers sent defensemen Mike Caruso and Colby Robak back down to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. ... Florida's Eric Selleck and Jack Skille are out with concussions. ... The Devils scratched three players Saturday: winger Kryst Barch and defensemen Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov. Barch is a former Panther. ... Up next for the Panthers is Tuesday's road game at Tampa Bay. ... The Devils return home to play host to the New York Islanders on Monday.
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