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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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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 12:02 PM

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

Devils focus on pushing series with Panthers to seven

NEWARK, N.J. -- A season full of promise will hinge on how badly the New Jersey Devils want it on Tuesday when they host the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Prudential Center.
 
"I anticipate a strong effort from everybody … there's a lot of pride and character in that room, and I expect this to be our best game," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said Tuesday morning following his team's optional skate at Prudential Center.
 
"The message [Tuesday morning] was that we're not going to win this series [Tuesday night]," DeBoer said. "We have to win one game, and then both will be in the same position … that's the focus."
 
The Panthers own a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven matchup in which all games were there for the taking at some point. Momentum, key mistakes and players rising to the occasion proved to be the difference for the victor in each of the first five contests.
 
"We're not done yet," Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk said. "We can win two in a row. We did it a lot this year. But they're a good team. They work hard. They do what they're best at. Like I said a lot of times, they're there for a reason, but if we want to win the series, we've got to take care of ourselves."
 
The Devils have put themselves in a situation where they need to win two straight playoff games in order to advance -- something they haven't accomplished since 2007 when they won three straight to take their quarterfinal-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. While the Devils have gone 27 straight playoff games without experiencing two straight postseason wins, it isn't as if they haven't won consecutive contests this season.
 
New Jersey won two or more in a row on 13 different occasions during the season. They actually closed out their 82-game schedule with a season-high six straight victories.
 
"I'm sure I'll be nervous entering tonight," Parise said. "There's a lot on the line and I'm sure a lot of guys will be nervous, and that's OK, we'll be ready to play. I guess it's kind of pointless and adds a little more stress to think about two at a time. We can't win them both [Tuesday]. I think the last game was their best game and we weren't on top of ours. So, we have to be a lot better in areas that we were better at earlier in the series."
 
That recipe includes playing with more desperation and greater ferocity on the forecheck. It also means staying out of the penalty box, shooting more and collecting rebounds.
 
"I think all of us, we've got to shoot the puck more and we've got to create more traffic," Kovalchuk said.
 
For the record, the Devils have averaged 29 shots in five playoff games against the Panthers. The team averaged 27.5 shots in the regular season. Florida yielded 30.5 shots per game during the regular season.
 
"I think as a group we have to get more shots," DeBoer said. "You look at the stats [in Game 5] and I think our defensemen as a group had one shot [Mark Fayne]. That's not enough. I think we passed up some opportunities to shoot some pucks as a group too, not just the defense. It was across the board. You look at the goals scored around the League at this time of year and a lot of them are generated off shots and rebounds."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 11:44 AM

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

Theodore not on ice for Panthers' morning skate

NEWARK, N.J. -- There is no sign of Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore on the ice during the team's morning skate on Tuesday in preparation for Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils.
 
Additionally, defenseman Jason Garrison and forward Tomas Fleischmann are also not on the ice. Fleischmann missed practice prior to Game 4 at Prudential Center as well, but did start the game. Garrison will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury and will be replaced in the lineup by Tyson Strachan.
 
Theodore stopped 30 shots in Game 5 to lead the Panthers to a 3-0 victory that enabled the team to grab a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom were the goalies on the ice during Tuesday's practice.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said that Theodore still could play Tuesday night.
 
"We decided to give Theo the morning off and see where he's at tonight," Dineen said. "He's a little bit tender right now so we'll evaluate as the day moves on see if he's ready to play tonight or not. We'll always try to lean toward the side of precaution if there is something that somebody is a little bit tender with. We felt we needed an extra backup and that's why you see Jake out there."
 
If Theodore can't go, former Devil Scott Clemmensen figures to make his second career playoff start for the Panthers. Clemmensen was called upon to start Game 4, stopping 23 of 27 shots in a 4-0 loss in Newark.
 
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:28 PM

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

Brodeur: 'Scoring first would help' Devils in Game 6

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur feels getting that first goal of the game in a must-win situation might help alleviate some pressure.
 
Add in the fact the Devils were shut out in Game 5 on Saturday by the Florida Panthers, working for that opening goal could instill some needed confidence.
 
"Scoring first would help," Brodeur said. "I think just for the psyche of players and especially coming from a game where we didn't score. You just don't want to get their goalie in a rhythm again, so you try to get goals on him as quick as possible.
 
"But sometimes it might not happen and you just work through that."
 
The team scoring first in this best-of-seven series has gone on to win four of the five games so far. The only time the team scoring first couldn't hold the lead was Game 3 in Newark, when the Devils opened a 3-0 lead and ultimately lost, 4-3.
 
"It would be nice [scoring first], but I don't think we'll get off the ice and leave if we don't," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We'd love to get the crowd into the game early and make it a tough atmosphere for Florida to play in. If the game is zeroes, we're going to keep playing the same way, whether we're up or down two goals because, in this series, you have seen three-goal leads disappear quickly. If it doesn't happen, that's alright."
 
DeBoer said it certainly wouldn't create a sense of chaos on the bench if the Panthers struck first on Tuesday in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The Panthers hold a 3-2 series edge.
 
"It's not necessarily important that we score first," DeBoer said. "We just have to play a solid game, that's what we have to do. If we're playing well, and they end up with the first goal, I'm not concerned about the outcome."
 
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:17 PM

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

Devils' Sykora has hit a wall

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils left wing Petr Sykora was certainly one of the surprise additions to the roster out of training camp this season.
 
He turned out to be a key cog in New Jersey's regular-season turnaround, connecting for 21 goals, 44 points and a plus-4 rating in 82 games. But Sykora has hit the proverbial wall through five playoff games as the only forward on the team not to produce a single point in his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers.
 
"Right now, I'm not really scoring but hopefully that will turn around and I'll put some points on the board," Sykora told NHL.com. "I just want to finish strong and go as far as possible and who knows, we may get pretty far."
 
The Devils will host the Panthers at Prudential Center Tuesday in Game 6 of a best-of-seven series they now trail, 3-2.
 
The 35-year-old Sykora split the entire 2010-11 campaign between HC Plzen in his native Czech Republic and Dynamo Minsk in the KHL before entering training camp with the Devils on a tryout basis last summer. He'd ultimately sign and earn a spot as third-line center, but his solid play would soon have him playing second-line wing with Dainius Zubrus and his old pal, Patrik Elias.
 
It was really the one line coach Pete DeBoer kept intact the entire regular season. Following Monday's practice, DeBoer was asked if he has expected more out of the Elias line in this series.
 
"No, I've been satisfied," he said. "It's gone in spurts and waves, and different guys have stepped up at different times. I think from an offensive point of view, we've gotten contributions from just about everyone up front at different points and that's all you could ask for."
 
Sykora has been grateful to be given another chance with the Devils.
 
"It's been a blast ... it's been a long time coming but you play with good players and you earn your ice time and everything kind of falls in place," Sykora said. "I'm fortunate to be playing with great players this year, mostly with Patty [Elias] and Zubby [Zurbus]. We've been clicking throughout the whole season and now we're in the playoffs, so it's been good."
 
Still, one could sense a bit of disappointment in Sykora's voice over his lack of production on offense in the opening-round series. After all, Sykora has reached the 20-goal mark in 11 of his 15 NHL seasons. He is seeking his first postseason goal since 2008, when he struck for six goals and nine points in 20 playoff games as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
Sykora would gladly trade goals for wins at this stage in the season, though. He feels the team just needs to get back to the determined effort it put forth in Game 4, when it scored a 4-0 victory.
 
"When the team is clicking and going the way you want to go, it's always easier to play," Sykora said. "I think it's way tougher when it's not going well. In Game 4, everything kind of clicked, the penalty-kill, power-play and five-on-five play. You can feel it on the bench when everything is clicking, the energy is better and everything kind of falls in place."
 
DeBoer knows it takes more than one player or one line to be successful this time in the season.
 
"We haven't been a one line team and have had different contributions from different guys at different points," DeBoer said. "I think the key over the last two games is to get multiple lines going on the same night, that's the key."
 
The Devils will need to be clicking on all cylinders Tuesday if they have any intention of extending their season.
 
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