It was the return of the rats to celebrate the 1996 team at BB&T Center on Thursday night as the Florida Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2. The last two times the Panthers had made the Stanley Cup playoffs back in 2000 and 2012, the Devils were their opponent in the first round. The Panthers tied a franchise record with their 43rd win of the regular season which equaled the mark from 1999-2000.
New Jersey(37-33-8) first got on the scoreboard on their second power play at 8:30. Devante Smith-Pelly released a shot from the high slot which went off the leg of Erik Gudbranson. Mike Sislo got to the loose puck in the low left circle and snapped in a shot by Al Montoya for his third goal this year. Adam Henrique picked up his 200th career point on the play.
Florida(43-25-9) was able to tie the contest 1-1 at 7:57 of the second period. Aaron Ekblad was at center ice and forwarded the puck then got body-checked by Kyle Palmieri. Shawn Thornton entered the Devils zone and sent a lead pass to a streaking Jonathan Huberdeau in the slot area. His first shot from close range was stopped by Keith Kincaid, however Huberdeau followed up and scored on a forehand shot in the blue paint for his 17th goal of the season. The crowd began to throw rubber rats which were distributed prior to the game onto the ice surface following the goal. The Panthers held the Devils to three shots in the second and had a 29-10 shot advantage after two periods.
In the third period, the Panthers took their first lead of the contest at 3:13. Brian Campbell put the puck down the left-wing wall to Jaromir Jagr. He handed it to Huberdeau who dashed across the goal line and stuffed in a shot from the left of the crease for his second goal of the game and 18th tally. The fans dropped rats on the ice again and Florida was given a delay of game penalty.
The Cats put the game with 2:08 left as they got a two-goal cushion of 3-1. Jagr skated into the Devils on a two-on-one breakaway. He waited and fed a backhand pass through the low slot for Aleksander Barkov to score on. New Jersey ended the scoring as Blake Pietila put the puck in the net with 5.8 seconds left for his first NHL goal.