SUNRISE, Fl. No one figured the New Jersey-Florida series would end like this a double-overtime Game 7 thriller.
But when New Jersey rookie Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the night at 3:47 of the second overtime, he delivered his Devils a 3-2 Game 7 victory over Florida at the BankAtlantic Center, and everything seemed to make sense again.
"Someone had to be a hero, right?" he asked. "Why not me?"
Actually, it was a shocker Game 7, and this gritty series, got to such a dramatic stage.
The Devils, a historically good penalty-killing team, allowed nine power-play goals in the series. That was a mind-blower.
But also consider the lackluster Florida Panthers appeared dead in Thursday's Game 7 when they limped into the third period with a 2-0 deficit. Things were going so badly the home crowd booed the Panthers when the period ended.
That's when the memorable part of this game began and things stopped making sense.
Florida, making its first playoff appearance since 2000, came out of nowhere to have a stirring third period, scoring a pair of power play goals to tie the game at 2 and send it into overtime.
"They made us fight for everything we got," Devils wing Zach Parise said of the series. "They never went away."
Florida also never surged, and that's why they'll be at home over the weekend while New Jersey will be preparing to play Philadelphia in a second-round series.
Florida, making is first playoff appearance since 2000, took a 3-2 series lead to New Jersey for Tuesday's Game 6. The Panthers lost that game, 3-2.
That meant in Game 7 they had to face New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who might or might not be the best goalie in NHL history. That's up for debate. But he's in the conversation. And that made Thursday's task about as tough as it gets.
And as the game wore on beating Brodeur (43 saves) became nearly impossible.
In the second period, when Florida only had two shots on goal, Brodeur and the Devils' defense put up a wall. The Panthers hardly threatened to score, managing just two shots on goal.
By the time New Jersey wing Stephen Gionta gave the Devils a 2-0 lead, dumping the puck in the back of the net past Panthers goalie Jose Theodore at the 9:15 mark of the second period, it seemed the game's outcome had been determined.
New Jersey was clearly the more dominant team. The Devils were energetic and enthusiastic. The Panthers, for the second game in a row, seemed a bit reticent, a little reluctant to get involved in the fray.
New Jersey, which wasn't playing on its home ice, was more comfortable.
This was a bit of a dramatic reversal. Through five games, when Florida had a 3-2 series lead, the Panthers were 7-for-23 on the power play. New Jersey, which killed penalties at an astounding 89 percent during the regular season, the best mark in the modern era, was floundering.
Then the power play re-emerged as the most significant element in this series. Florida scored two power play goals in a span of 12 minutes.
When Florida center Stephen Weiss scored at the 5:02 mark it didn't seem to be a big deal. In the minutes that followed Brodeur, who carried a 5-4 record in Game 7s, became a wall once again.
But then came the stunner.
Florida center Marcel Goc scored at the 16:32 mark, tyong the game at 2, and re-igniting a fighting spirit that got the soldout BankAtlantic Center believing once again.
"It's been the story of our season," Panthers defenseman Scottie Ushall said. "To go through all we had, battling back, no one really gave us a shot at the start of the year, or the start of the series."
Unfortunately, New Jersey also believed, and its belief was rooted in strategy.
"We felt we were the better team 5-on-5," Parise said. "If we could keep it like that we thought we had a good shot at winning."
They did keep it like that, and they did win. It was quite an accomplishment, and quite a Game 7.
"For us to be down 3-2 in the series," Parise said, "and for us to win 6 and 7, it's great for us."