MIAMI - Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game at 3:47 of the second overtime, and the New Jersey Devils beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in Game 7 early Friday to advance to second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The energy level going into the game was intense.
Thousands of people, some with their hair and beards painted red, others with toy plastic rats dangling around their necks, were brimming with excitement.
But none among them were more excited than the team's diehard fans.
Not the folks who just pulled the tags off their newly purchased Florida Panthers t-shirts, not the people who didn't even realize the Panthers were in the playoff series until this week, but the men and women so loyal that they've attended nearly every game since the Florida franchise last won a playoff series in 1996.
"Got my playoff beard, red hair and panthers shoes," said Lori Sills.
The Viking-like long brown costume beard and red pompom on her head certainly helped Lori stand out in the crowd of thousands.
"When they went to the Stanley Cup finals the first time I got hooked and I've been hooked ever since. Hey, it takes a lot of teams a lot of time to get to back sometimes so, there back, I'm happy," she said
Mark O'Connor has also been rooting for the Panthers for nearly two decades.
"I'm a diehard fan. Been around since the Miami Arena days," O'Connor said. "My heart's pumping out of my chest, we got to win."
Sills and O'Connor said win or lose, they'll be back next season.
As for all the fair-weather fans in their midst, O'Connor said, "Who cares? They're here. They are coming back. We're back. We're back!"
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