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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 4:55 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils ready for Flyers' skill and strength

NEWARK, N.J. -- So which team holds the advantage?

The Philadelphia Flyers have been idle since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs on April 22. The Devils won 3-2 in double overtime triumph at Florida in Game 7 in a game that extended into early Friday morning.

Would you rather be on the team coming off a week's rest or the one coming off an emotional one-game showdown for all the marbles?

"I guess we'll find out [at] 3:20 tomorrow afternoon," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said Saturday. "You hope they're a little stale and hope that we're game ready and refreshed enough to pick up where we left off in overtime in Florida … but I don't know those things."

Patrik Elias doesn't see and advantage one way or another.

"Every series is always a new beginning," Elias said after his team's practice in Newark on Saturday.

"If you had a couple of weeks or 10 days to rest, maybe that would help, but they had a physical six-game series [with Pittsburgh] … it's not like they swept a team," Elias continued. "It's always nice to get some time off and rest the body before a physical series."

Speaking of a physical series, do the Devils anticipate having to match the Flyers' physicality from the outset -- particularly at the Wells Fargo Center, where fans enjoy spirited, hard-hitting play?

"I don't think we'll have any problem matching them physically, but you just have to do it whistle to whistle," DeBoer said. "You can't get into the stuff away from the puck and away from the whistle. We know the game they want to play but you can't fall into that trap. Pittsburgh did and they're at home watching."

Elias admitted this is a different Philadelphia team than the Devils have faced in playoffs past.

"They like to play a physical style of hockey, but they're a lot more skilled then in the past," Elias said. "They have a great mix of players there. They have role players, physical guys and plenty of skill up front."

Devils captain Zach Parise agreed.

"They put up a lot of goals against Pittsburgh and we'll have to make sure we're sharper with the puck," Parise said. "I was looking at their lineup [Saturday] morning and they have a lot of depth, so we're going to need everyone to be on top of their game.

"I'm sure it'll be physical since that's the style of hockey they want to play and that's what they're good at, so we're expecting that and know it will come."

The Devils and Flyers split their six regular-season games, with the road team winning twice in each building. The teams have met in the playoffs four times, with the Flyers taking the last two confrontations via five-game, first-round knockouts in 2004 and '10.

Here were the line combinations on Saturday:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Alexei Ponikarovsky

Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus

David Clarkson - Adam Henrique - Petr Sykora

Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne

Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky

Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold/Adam Larsson

Martin Brodeur

Johan Hedberg

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 4:48 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils adjust lines at practice

NEWARK, N.J. -- An effective forecheck and undeniable compete level ultimately proved to be the difference for the New Jersey Devils in their opening-round triumph against the Florida Panthers in seven hard-fought games.
 
So what will be the game plan against the bigger Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series slated to begin at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC)?
 
For starters, how about a few line adjustments.
 
The Devils returned to practice on Saturday and coach Pete DeBoer conducted a one hour-plus workout in preparation for the Flyers.
 
DeBoer opened some eyes when he had top-line center Travis Zajac between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ilya Kovalchuk, and second-line center Patrik Elias between Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus -- Ponikarovsky and Parise were basically flipped. Petr Sykora, who was a staple on the Elias line most of the season, was placed on a line with center Adam Henrique and David Clarkson.
 
"Any kind of change is refreshing and it gives players around them a different jump and different look," DeBoer said after practice. "It doesn't mean we will make a change; we've won a lot of games here over last month with the lines we've had. No decisions have been made yet but any change usually gets a positive reaction, one way or another."
 
Henrique was the overtime hero in Game 7. The rookie connected for his second goal of the game 3:47 into the fifth period to end New Jersey's longest overtime playoff game since 2003.
 
Ponikarovsky was asked about the shuffling and being placed on the top line with Kovalchuk and Zajac.
 
"If they stay that way, it won't change my game," he said. "I know what I have to do and I'll just fit in with Trav and Kovy. We played one game against Pittsburgh back in the regular season and had some success, so that's what they're trying right now."
 
The only trio that remained intact from the Florida series was the fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. That's not too surprising considering the trio accounted for five goals and nine points in seven games.
 
"We scored well 5-on-5 against Florida but there's always room for improvements," DeBoer said. "I thought our fourth line generated a lot of offense, and the top two lines were a little sporadic. We're going to try different things throughout this series."
 
DeBoer was also asked if rookie defenseman Adam Larsson could make his playoff debut in this series. Larsson has been a healthy scratch for 12 of the team's last 13 games, including all seven of the opening round.
 
"I would guess so," DeBoer said of the team's top pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. "We've only got seven defensemen here and you rarely get through series without some types of bumps and bruises, so I wouldn't doubt that he would play."
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 8:31 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore to start, Garrison to play for Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's official -- goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison will return to the lineup on Thursday for the Florida Panthers against the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at BankAtlantic Center.
 
Jose Theodore
Goalie - FLA
RECORD: 2-1-0
GAA: 2.59 | SVP: 0.919
Theodore missed Game 6 in New Jersey on Tuesday with an apparent lower-body injury he suffered the day before during practice. The 35-year-old veteran of 16 NHL seasons is 2-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in four postseason appearances against the Devils.
 
Garrison, who set a franchise record for defensemen with 16 goals in the regular season and logged the second-most ice time behind Brian Campbell, has been vital to the success of the Panthers all season. He missed the last three games with a lower-body ailment but appeared confident and ready to go at the team's morning skate on Thursday at BankAtlantic. Garrison has one goal, two points, nine hits and 10 shots in three playoff games.
 
With the 27-year-old defenseman in the lineup, Florida's power-play was clicking at a 60-percent success rate (6-for-10) in the opening three games of the series. During his absence, the team has gone 1-for-13 with the extra man.
 
"He a big part of their power play and we have to be aware of him," Devils captain Zach Parise said of Garrison. "Campbell likes to walk it down the wall and give it to him for one-timers, so we have to try and take that pass away."
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Devils want to replicate effort from last game

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The possible returns of goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison to the Florida Panthers lineup won't change much in terms of strategy for the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.

To a man, Devils players believe that if it can replicate the effort put forth in Game 6, when they outshot the Panthers 42-16 en route to a 3-2 overtime victory, they'll be in good shape.

"I would expect our approach to be like it was last game with a little desperation," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We can't afford to come out lifeless and without energy. We can't allow them to get the crowd going. If we play our game, we should be fine."

The last time Theodore was in goal, he posted a 30-save, 3-0 victory in Sunrise in Game 5.

"Theodore has played solid here against us and he's given them an opportunity to win," Devils forward Patrik Elias said. "But it's more about us and how we play."

When Garrison was in the lineup, the Panthers were converting at a 60-percent clip on the power play (6 for 10) over the first three games of the series. In the last three games without him, the club has scored just one goal with the man advantage on 13 chances.

"He a big part of their power play and we have to be aware of him," Parise said. "[Brian] Campbell likes to walk it down the wall and give it to him for one timers, so we have to try and take that pass away. Both those guys like to jump up into the play, but we've done a pretty good job of limiting them. One of their strengths is their offense from the back end, but we've done a good job."

The Panthers have gotten three of their 15 goals in this series from defensemen, all in a Game 3 victory.

Here are the projected lineups for the Devils in Game 7:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 11:50 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison expected back for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Mums the word on who will start between the pipes for the Florida Panthers in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.
 
Well, sort of.
 
While head coach Kevin Dineen offered his usual post-practice soliloquy regarding how confident he is with the play of both goalies, keep in mind that Jose Theodore was manning the cage that the Panthers will defend in the first and third periods. He was also the first goalie off the ice, which is also a pretty good indication he'll get the nod as the Game 7 starter.
 
When Theodore is officially given the nod, it will be his second career Game 7.
 
"It's do or die," Theodore told reporters on Wednesday after practice. "These are the kind of games you want to be part of. I mean, everybody, when you’re a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that it’s Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So obviously it’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."
 
Said Dineen: "Jose has a tremendous amount of respect in this League and he's given us credibility and stability and deserves a start if he can go."
 
After posting his second career playoff shutout in Game 5, Theodore was suffering from a lower-body injury in Game 6 and was replaced in net by Scott Clemmensen. Both Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom were taking turns at one end of the rink during Thursday's practice.
 
In addition to Theodore, the Panthers might also welcome offensive-defenseman Jason Garrison back to the lineup. Garrison has been sidelined the last three games with a lower-body injury.
 
"It's tough watching regular season games from the stands, let alone playoffs," Garrison said after his team's morning skate on Thursday. "But I'm fortunate there's still a game left, so I'll try and contribute and help the team."
 
How confident is he that he'll start the game?
 
"I don't want to jinx myself, but it would take a whole lot," Garrison said.
 
Here is the probable Game 7 lineup for the Panthers:
 
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
 
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
 
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Stinger slowed, but couldn't stop, Zajac

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before scoring in overtime in Game 6, there were questions surrounding the status of New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac midway through the second period.
 
At one point, Zajac limped off the ice and into the locker room, but he returned one shift later.
 
"It was kind of a stinger and I just skated off but was fine after that," Zajac said Wednesday afternoon as his team made final preparations before boarding a plane to Florida for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN).

It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, as Zajac finished the game with 24:23, won 14 of 23 faceoffs and scored the Devils' biggest goal of the season -- so far.
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer admitted he began moving players around when Zajac initially left the bench area.
 
"We started to make some adjustments on the bench to move guys around and figuring that he might not be back and it was nice to see him hop back out there," DeBoer said.
 
Zajac, who certainly has endured his share of injuries this season, ended Game 6 5:39 into overtime. His teammates couldn't help but laud his effort since returning from a left Achilles injury that limited his to just 15 regular-season games this season.
 
"It's a great thing for him mentally to play at the level he's playing right now, but at the end of the day, regardless if you're a guy coming back from an injury or a guy just starting, to score an overtime goal in the playoffs is quite a feat," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "I think you build up a lot of confidence by doing different things on the ice at certain times in your career and for him, I'm sure that's a pretty big highlight."
 
Zajac underwent Achilles surgery in August, missed training camp and didn't play until Dec. 16, only to be sidelined again after playing against Ottawa on Jan. 2. The 26-year-old forward is just happy to be back on the ice and contributing to the team.
 
"[DeBoer] made it easier on me when I came back, putting me with Kovy [Ilya Kovalchuk] and Zach [Parise], two of the best players in the world," Zajac said. "He put me in a great situation with them. They make the game easier and it's fun to play with them. They compete hard, and that wears off on you. This is the best time to play hockey and we want to do well. We have high expectations and wanted to get a shot at a Game 7."
 
Kovalchuk, who assisted on Zajac's game-winner, wasn't at all surprised by Zajac's heroics Tuesday.
 
"It's nice … he got a little hard check in the second period but came back, shook it off and scored a big goal," Kovalchuk said. "Like I said before, he's our best centerman and one of our leaders so it didn't surprise me that he scored that kind of goal."
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Kovalchuk preparing to play in his first Game 7

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was a sequence even New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer couldn't draw up. Then again, why bother, when you have players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac on your roster.
 
It happened Tuesday night with over five minutes gone in overtime of Game 6 when Parise broke up a two-on-one breakout by the Panthers, getting his stick in on Stephen Weiss at the last second, before ultimately chipping the puck to Kovalchuk along the boards at center ice.
 
Kovalchuk carried the puck over the Florida blue line, drew two defenders to him and then zipped a pass to Zajac on his left for a quick shot from the left circle that beat Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen under the pads to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
 
"It's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players this time of year and, in Game 6, ours were," DeBoer said. "Parise with the backcheck, Marty [Brodeur] with the save, Kovy with the great pass and Travis with the finish. I don't think there's any secret formula there, the guys know that and we've got to do it again."
 
So after 10 seasons of producing incredible regular-season statistics, Kovalchuk will finally get an opportunity to experience a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Is he excited? You bet.
 
"It's great," Kovalchuk said. "This is going to be my first Game 7 ever. It's exciting. I'm sure the building will be loud, they'll be going, but we have to do the same thing. If we're going to forecheck well, we can't give them a lot of turnovers in the second period. We have to be strong."
 
Unlike Kovalchuk, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be playing in his 10th career Game 7. He sports a 5-4 record in such contests and is 11-12 in elimination games over this 18-season career.
 
"I guess the preparation may be a little different for a Game 7, but when you get into the game, it's still a hockey game," Brodeur said. "It's an exciting time."
 
While the Devils did outshoot (42-16) and outhit (28-27) the Panthers in Game 6, they also turned the puck over 15 times. The Panthers finished the game with eight giveaways. DeBoer was also pleased with the fact his team took just one minor penalty in the game.
 
Kovalchuk believes both teams will be feeling the heat on Thursday, and not just because they'll be in the Sunshine State. The team scoring first has won five of the six games.
 
"The pressure is on," Kovalchuk said. "What are you talking about? It's Game 7, so it's anybody's game now. We just have to go out there and play well."

Kovalchuk now has three goals and five points in six playoff games.
 
DeBoer can sense, with each passing game, that Kovalchuk is gaining more confidence.
 
"Kovy rose to the occasion and we've seen that all year in him … he's been on board and willing to do what it takes," DeBoer told the media on Wednesday afternoon. "He has off-nights once in a while, but very rarely two in a row and he follows it up with a big performance. That's what we got last night, but he'll have to replicate that again."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Projected Game 6 lineup for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils coach Peter DeBoer told the media on Monday that he would not make any lineup changes for Game 6, meaning rookie defenseman Adam Larsson would be a healthy scratch for the 11th time in 12 games.
 
"It's hard," Larsson said. "I try not to show it so much. I try to be positive."
 
Larsson, a participant at every practice this postseason, has yet to experience the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Here's the projected lineup for New Jersey:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 12:38 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Parise's mind not on possibility of last game for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Could Zach Parise be playing his final game for the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday when his club hosts the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Prudential Center?
 
It's possible.
 
Parise will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the odds that he tests the open market at this point look pretty good. Still, the 27-year-old captain, who has never advanced beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six previous seasons, has preferred not to discuss his future in the hours leading up to the most important game of the season.
 
"You never want your season to end earlier than it's supposed to," Parise told reporters after Tuesday's optional skate at Prudential Center. "That thought hasn't crossed my mind, but there's a lot of things that are motivating factors at this stage.
 
"We can't go out there and play scared or play with fear," he continued. "That'll get us nowhere. We have to rely on one another … that everyone is going to do their job and do what they're supposed to do. If we do that, we'll be fine."
 
Parise was asked if he would provide any motivating speech prior to the opening faceoff since he'll be dealing with his first elimination game as captain of the club.
 
"That's none of your business," he said, smiling. "I'm sure everyone will have their two cents and their opinion and we'll all make sure that our linemates and teammates are ready to play and we have plenty of guys capable of doing that."
 
At this stage, Parise admits the team really has no choice but to embrace and deal with the situation.
 
"We have to enjoy playing in front of our own fans and on our own rink," he said. "It'll be exciting, and when we do embrace it, we'll be able to play more relaxed. You lose, and the season is over. There will be a lot of emphasis on systems, and on our compete level, which has to be better than the last game."
 
Parise has two goals, three points and a minus-1 rating in five playoff games. For his career, he has 15 goals and 31 points in 42 contests.
 
"You want a good start ... when you get a good start you get the crowd into it and players run on adrenaline and have that extra energy," Parise said. "When I talk about compete level, I'm referring to us getting knocked off the puck too easily and not competing for the puck. We have to be able to come out of scrums for pucks, and we didn't do that well enough last game."
 
Parise was one of only five Devils to appear in all 82 regular-season games this season. He finished second on the team with 31 goals and was third in assists (38) and points (69). He became only the second player in team history to score 30 goals five times.
 
Despite having played in over 40 career playoff games, Parise said he'll probably feel a tad nervous at the outset.
 
"I probably will be nervous … I was for Games 1 and 2," Parise said. "Once you get used to everything, you're a lot better. There's a lot on the line and I'm sure a lot of guys will be nervous and that's OK. But we'll be ready to play."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 12:06 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers' top lines have been getting job done

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Florida Panthers made their final journey to New Jersey on Monday afternoon, had a team dinner in Manhattan in the evening, and are now relishing the thought of eliminating the New Jersey Devils from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
The Panthers can extinguish the Devils on Tuesday when they take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 at Prudential Center.
 
The Panthers need to win just one of their remaining two games scheduled in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in order to celebrate their first playoff series triumph since the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Panthers would prefer not to give the Devils any momentum, and instead end the series here in Game 6.
 
"We're not looking ahead," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.
 
The Panthers have received contributions throughout the lineup, but it's tough to ignore the impact that Florida's top line has had. Entering the series, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss had combined for seven goals in four regular-season meetings with the Devils. Not much has changed in five playoff games, as the trio has produced five goals and 10 points.
 
The second line, with Marcel Goc centering Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson has totaled three goals and 11 points against the Devils in the postseason.
 
"Their top two lines are very good lines," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said. "Weiss creates stuff out there and make plays happen … they make you pay for mistakes. The Goc line is much of the same; they're a little more of a simple line, they get pucks in and cycle and getting by the net. They are a very structured team in a sense they know what they're going to do. There are no easy plays out there as a defender going against them."
 
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