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Devils' thrilling victory in Game 7 finishes off crazy opening round

For the first two periods, this game was Ambien mixed with Melatonin. For the final 43 minutes 47 seconds, it was a triple-shot cappucino mixed with Red Bull and steroids followed by a 50,000-volt chaser of electricity.

The later it got, the more awake and aware you became to what a fantastic Game 7 this was between the New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers on Thursday night/Friday morning at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

SECOND-ROUND PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Tied at 2-2, the game that was just entering "It's a shame one team will have to lose" territory when Devils rookie Adam Henrique finished it with the winner at 3:47 of the second overtime, an appropriate end to a fantastic first round of playoffs. The Devils thus move on to play the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

"I was lucky enough to get it in the slot and just tried to get one on net," Henrique told the NHL Network minutes after stealing a puck in the Panthers' end and ripping a wrist shot through the five-hole of goalie Jose Theodore. "We were up and down all series, but we knew if we just stuck to our game we'd have a chance."

Martin Brodeur, who will turn 40 on May 6, during the series with the Flyers, was tremendous in gaining career playoff victory No. 103. He finished with 43 saves, perhaps the biggest being a glove stop on Kris Versteeg with 17.6 seconds left in regulation after Florida had overcome a 2-0 third-period deficit and the ice was completely tilted toward New Jersey's net.

"We survived it," Brodeur told TSN. "I came up with a save there with a few seconds left in regulation, and from there I thought we played decent in overtime. Guys are playing tired in overtime, but I think they (play) smarter, and we made good decisions with the puck."

What a strange game it was. For the Panthers, they will spend the summer wondering why it seemed to take them the first 40 minutes to start acting like they were in, you know, a seventh game on home ice. They looked completely disinterested, taking only two shots in the second period and trailing by two. There were even some boos as they skated off the ice.

But what a third period they played. In outshooting the Devils 19-6, they evened the score by the 16:32 mark on power-play goals by Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc. Florida kept coming, and Versteeg put a backhander on Brodeur that was gloved right on the goal line in midair. It was that close for the Panthers.

"We didn't like our start, but I think we showed our true identity -- what we like to call Florida Panther hockey -- at the end," rookie coach Kevin Dineen told reporters. "It made for an enthusiastic end, but not quite the one we wanted. We have a lot to build on from this."

Henrique scored the Devils' first and final goals. It was a terrific offensive night for the rookie, one that overcame his losing 11-of-15 faceoffs. On the winner, he capitalized on a turnover by Florida's Shawn Matthias, taking the puck off the right wall, skating into the slot and beating Theodore (33 saves).

"It was a great relief when Adam scored that goal. The puck was following him all night it seemed," Devils forward Zach Parise told NHL Network.

As for facing the Flyers, Parise said, "We know they can score a lot of goals in bunches. We'll have to be ready."

They don't have long to prepare. Their series starts on Sunday afternoon in Philly. Hopefully for the Devils, they won't need shots of espresso to get going.

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