It's the best time of year!
By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE, Fla. -- After the last rat had been hurled to the ice at BankAtlantic Center following Florida's 3-0 win over New Jersey on Saturday -- one vermin even parachuted safely to the ice with a soft landing -- the question was asked: What's a "dirty goal"?
Kris Versteeg's power-play goal off a pass from Stephen Weiss in the second period was majestic -- a Verbeauty -- and surely wasn't a dirty one. Versteeg's whistling one-timer from the left circle was reminiscent of something Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin or New Jersey's own Ilya Kovalchuk would have fired. It proved to be the game-winner in the pivotal Game 5 win, which lifted Florida to a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal and pushed New Jersey to the brink of elimination.
But while not as much a thing of beauty as Versteeg's marker, the second goal -- started by Scottie Upshall, forced forward by Shawn Matthias, set up by Versteeg and eventually netted by Upshall -- was the kind that had Florida coach Kevin Dineen smiling in the post-game presser.
Upshall battled with Travis Zajac for a rebound in the defensive end, sliding onto the ice once, and getting the puck out of the zone and into the neutral third with some help from Matthias. The 24-year-old center did most of the grueling work there by hounding Marek Zidlicky twice, then the helping favor was returned by Upshall, who shot it around the boards and behind the Devils' goal. As goalie Martin Brodeur came to play the puck, Versteeg stripped him of it and passed to a trailing Upshall -- all alone and skating in on the empty cage.
2-0, Florida. And essentially, ball game.
"(Matthias) plays strong and has been making strong plays," said Upshall, whose tap-in had the sellout crowd of 19,513 rising and roaring. "Steeger made a great play, too. To strip the puck from Marty Brodeur is not easy. (Brodeur) handles the puck like Pavel Datsyuk."
But was that a dirty goal?
"It's playoff hockey, right?" Matthias replied. "Competing for pucks and winning battles. There's no such thing as an ugly goal this time of year. It was a lot of hard work from our line. I wouldn't call it a dirty goal. It's playoff hockey for the Stanley Cup, right? You look around the league, they're all like that.
"The hardest working team's going to win. Uppy and I had our heads down and were working as hard as we could to get that puck down the ice. That's the type of effort you need this time of year."
Added Dineen, smiling as he recalled the effort that started with a save by goalie Jose Theodore: "New Jersey is a hard team to play against. We talk about the battles that go on at the lines because they're a very confrontational team. There was a battle at our blue line that we won, there was one at the red line and a battle at their blue line. That's the kind of video that you can sit on and look at and say, 'That's the difference in hockey games.'"
Tomas Kopecky added the third goal -- and it didn't even touch the net. Headed toward an empty goal with the puck in his possession despite his team playing down 6-on-4 after Erik Gudbranson's late penalty, the lanky Kopecky was held from behind by Kovalchuk, resulting in Kopecky being award the last tally in the 3-0 win.
So if you were keeping score at home, the goals read like this: a one-timed beauty, an effort goal that took 200 feet to create and a shorthanded non-netter.
Call them whatever you want. Just call them playoff goals.
That's the most important description right now.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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