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Zidlicky scores in final seconds of OT to send Devils past Panthers

The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- With 3.8 seconds to go in overtime, there's very little chance to engineer a goal with an offensive-zone faceoff.

"You're almost submitting to the shootout at that point," New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.

Yet the play DeBoer drew up during a timeout Saturday night worked like a charm against the Florida Panthers.

Center Travis Zajac won the faceoff to right winger Jaromir Jagr, who tapped it over to defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who blistered a one-timer past the catching glove of goaltender Tim Thomas with one second remaining to give the Devils a 2-1 victory at Prudential Center.

Was it pure coaching genius to design a play that worked as perfectly as this one?

"I'd like to say yes, but I can tell you I draw up 1,000 face-off plays over the course of a season and they very rarely work," DeBoer said. "You could lose a draw or you don't get a bounce. The credit was to the execution."

"I was just trying to execute what Pete drew up for us," said Zajac, who beat Panthers center Marcel Goc after winning 3-of-8 draws against him during the game. "We were able to do it to a T. I don't know if we could do it again, but it worked."

Zidlicky's shot foiled an outstanding performance by Thomas, who stopped 34 shots and kept his team in a game they were severely outplayed during the first two periods. Thomas said he had Zidlicky's shot lined up, but it changed direction on the way to the net.

"He's pretty much the guy I expected the shot from," Thomas said. "It went off a stick. He was shooting low glove. It went off a stick, just under the crossbar."

The Panthers had several chances throughout regulation and overtime to score a second goal. Defenseman Brian Campbell hit the post with a point shot during a second-period power play with the score 1-1, then flubbed a chance from the slot in overtime that was easily stopped by goaltender Cory Schneider.

Schneider was Thomas' equal throughout the contest, stopping 29 shots for his second straight win.

The shot totals and chances for the game were close, but Thomas felt the Panthers could have played better.

"We think we can play a lot better," Thomas said. "We're happy that we somehow eked out a point, but we can play better than that. We have played better than that. We're disappointed with the way that we played."

Right winger Michael Ryder's fourth goal in four games gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 15:22 of the first period. Left winger Ryane Clowe's dogged work behind the net freed the puck from Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson and allowed Clowe to chip the puck in front of the net. Ryder gathered it and fired it past Thomas for his 16th goal of the season.

The scored remained that way until 11:54 of the second, when center Nick Bjugstad's ninth of the season pulled the Panthers into a 1-1 tie. The rookie beat Devils defenseman Jon Merrill to the front of the net and redirected left winger Tomas Fleischmann's pass past Schneider.

The teams traded chances in the third period after playing close to the vest during the first two periods, but no one could solve Schneider or Thomas until the contest's final second.

"It was up and down, guys were getting a lot of good chances," Bjugstad said. "Timmy kept us in it. We had some good opportunities as well. It's a full 60-minute game, including the overtime tonight. But we have to bring it the first two periods."

The Devils will be in Toronto on Sunday in a battle of teams with 47 points who are on the outside of the playoff picture, one point out of a wild-card spot.

"It'll be tough," Zajac said. "They're hungry for a win. They haven't won in a while. It'll be a good game."

NOTES: The Panthers continue to have one of the worst records in the NHL in one-goal contests. They are now 9-8-7, which represents the third-worst winning percentage in the NHL in games determined by one goal. ... Panthers RW Brad Boyes has 37 career shootout goals, most in the NHL since the skills competition was used to break ties during the 2005-06 season. ... Devils C Patrik Elias remains sidelined with what the team is calling "body soreness." Coach Peter DeBoer said Elias skated Friday and is trending in the right direction. ... RW Jaromir Jagr's assist on the game-winning goal moved him past C Mario Lemieux for seventh on the all-time scoring list with 1,724 points. ... DeBoer said after the game G Cory Schneider will start in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Sunday.
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