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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Gudbranson having fun with first playoff experience

NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson admits his experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been better than expected.
 
"I think it's more than what people think," the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Gudbranson told NHL.com. "It looks a lot different on TV than when you're actually playing the game. You see the little hits and the bumps that guys get and in playoffs, and they leave a mark.
 
"In the playoffs, guys are going all out and the passion and intensity out there certainly picks up, so it's been absolutely a lot of fun."
 
Gudbranson, who was taken with the third pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has yet to register a point through three playoff games, but he tied for third on the team with 10 hits. On top of that, he's been receiving plenty of mentoring from veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski.
 
Jovanovski not only has a locker stall right beside Gudbranson for both home and away games, but the two are also paired together.
 
"I think the biggest thing with him is trying to relate to myself personally, and he did it at the same age that I am now," Gudbranson told The New York Times. "It's nice to be able to relate to someone with so much experience, and he does it for the whole team. He's always there for me whenever I have a question, and he's taught me to become an overall defenseman and to know when and where to be physical while also playing composed."
 
But Jovanovski isn't the only mentor. In the locker room following Florida's 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Tuesday, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was explaining to his prized defender when not to engage an opponent and, rather, "skate away."
 
"The season has been great … I've been happy my rookie season and it's been better just because of the guys we have in this room and the success we've had as a team," Gudbranson told NHL.com. "For a team that hasn't been in the playoffs for 10 years, to come out and compete like we have the past three  games to put ourselves in a good position, is fantastic. But we need to keep going here."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 2:11 PM

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

Night after collapse, Devils back at practice

NEWARK, N.J. -- After suffering an excruciating loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils were back on the ice at AmeriHealth Pavilion Wednesday with the hope of restoring some sense of order.
 
The Devils opened a 3-0 lead 6:18 into the first period only to have the Panthers register four unanswered goals en route to a 4-3 triumph. Devils coach Pete DeBoer put the team through a pretty rigorous workout in preparation for Thursday's critical Game 4 at Prudential Center.
 
"I liked practice [Wednesday]," DeBoer said. "We came out in a good frame of mind, we were confident. Now we just need to get a win here [Thursday] night and keep moving forward."
 
The first-year coach said he didn't really need to rehash what transpired Tuesday night.
 
"We talked before playoffs that anytime you go down a playoff road, you will face adverse situations, so you need to expect them," DeBoer said. "You just don't know when, but when they come, you welcome them and handle them properly. We knew we'd be in this spot, eventually, and I think we're prepared for it."
 
DeBoer was asked if his team would be a tad concerned if they were to open a lead at any point in the remainder of the series.
 
"I'll take a 3-0 lead in a game any day," he said. "I don't care how many we've blown. You want to give me three goals, I'll take them. You have to give Florida credit, coming back like we did the other night even though we didn't do it all the way.
 
"There's really no rhyme of reason to these momentum swings," he continued. "That's the way the series is coming down. But the team that can fix those issues the quickest, is probably going to win this series so that's on us to do."
 
Ilya Kovalchuk, who has one goal and one assist in three games in the series, thought the players were sharp at practice Wednesday morning.
 
"It was good ... a nice and short practice," Kovalchuk said. "We cleaned up what we wanted to and worked on our forecheck a little bit. We'll see tomorrow."
 
Devils forward Dainius Zubrus, who has a goal and one assist in three games, feels the team will respond well, as it has the entire season.
 
"You reach certain points where you lose two in a row and it happens throughout the season, but I don't want to say, we've been there, because this is the playoffs and it's a little different," Zubrus told NHL.com. "But we can respond ... we have done it. It's not the situation we want to be in after winning the first game but this is how it is.
 
"There are things we can do better and clean up and, saying that, the belief is still there," he continued. "[Thursday] is a huge game because we don't want to go down and then go on the road."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 8:56 PM

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

Brodeur, Theodore pulled from Game 3

NEWARK, N.J. -- Both starting goalies for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are now on the bench.
 
Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 1-1-0
GAA: 2.54 | SVP: 0.898
The Devils forced Panthers coach Kevin Dineen to pull starter Jose Theodore just 6:16 into the first after the veteran netminder allowed three goals on six shots.
 
The Panthers, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit to open a 4-3 lead through two periods, chased New Jersey starter Martin Brodeur in favor of Johan Hedberg 2:18 into the second after the future Hall of Fame goalie yielded three goals on 12 shots.
 
The last time Brodeur was pulled from playoff game was in a 6-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the 2006 conference semifinal round.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Zajac feels healthy, contributing for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Despite missing the majority of the regular season with an Achilles injury, New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac admits he's feeling as good as ever.
 
The 26-year-old top-line center was limited to just 15 games by a sore left Achilles tendon during the regular season. He had 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.
 
Zajac is certainly glad to be part of the team at an important time in the season.
 
"I feel like nothing is holding me back on the ice, whether I'm bumping or turning … anything like that," Zajac told NHL.com. "I don't feel anything, and that's a positive. There's no pain or soreness or anything like afterwards, either, so I'm good. It's playoff hockey, so I think there's going to be a few guys playing through injuries during this time of the year."
 
In two playoff games, Zajac has one goal and a team-leading 65.6 percent efficiency on faceoffs, winning 21 of 32 draws.
 
Zajac was asked what the Devils need to correct in Game 3 in order to regain the series lead.
 
"We need to stay off the penalty-kill … we took some unnecessary penalties [in Game 2], but other than that we need to take the play to them," Zajac said. "I think we're good when we're aggressive and controlling the play. We're not a fancy team by any means, and our skill will take over when we get the puck down low and make plays down there. So that's where we have to make the plays against them."
 
Zajac also believes it's only a matter of time before linemate Zach Parise is rewarded with a goal for all his hard work.
 
"I think he's had plenty of shots, but Zach does it all," Zajac said. "He's not scoring, but he does a lot of good things away from the puck in the defensive zone. He has so much skill, the goals will come. The thing is, everyone has to contribute this time of year to help him out."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 12:54 PM

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

Panthers' Smithson to make series debut

NEWARK, N.J. -- In an effort to remain strong in the faceoff circle, Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has decided to do a little line tinkering for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
 
Dineen has opted to insert Jerred Smithson into his lineup for the first time this series. The 33-year-old Smithson, who was acquired from the Nashville Predators on Feb. 25, led the Panthers with a 56.1-percent faceoff winning percentage (345 for 615) during the regular season. He'll replace Wojtek Wolski in the lineup.
 
"We're always tinkering with our options and deciding what's best for the team," Dineen told reporters after his team's practice Tuesday. "The little adjustments here and there over the course of a series are going to happen, and that's how we feel now."
 
Smithson had one goal and six points in 69 regular-season games this season, but had just one assist in 16 games with the Panthers. 
 
"Jerred has given us good minutes since he's been here," Dineen said. "When you get healthy, you have all these quality options so you spend a day evaluating and sometimes you make game-time decisions like this.
 
"The faceoff circle is an area we concentrated on, especially when you see a guy like [Devils forward] Travis Zajac out there taking draws for them … he's big and strong and does a good job."
 
Here is the probable Game 3 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 Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 11:59 AM

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

Devils happy to be home

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are hoping some home cooking will produce favorable results Tuesday when they host the Florida Panthers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
 
The fact the Devils closed the regular season with an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 home games certainly plays into their advantage. But the team is just 4-9-0 in their last 13 postseason home games.
 
The club actually is 3-7 in playoff games at Prudential Center since moving to Newark in 2007-08.
 
"We have to create energy … it just doesn't come naturally," Devils forward Patrik Elias said following practice Tuesday. "For the fans, they need to experience something special and we need to give them a reason to feel special."
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer isn't overly concerned by the fact home teams are a combined 8-14 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
 
"I don't know why [home teams have struggled], but we're looking forward to playing at home and getting that last change, being able to play in front of our home crowd," DeBoer said. "It's something we're certainly not looking to avoid. I don't think we play any differently whether we're home or on the road.
 
"I know our preparation isn't any different on the road than it is at home. Our identity is an in-your-face, take-away-time-and-space, be-on-top-of-you type of team. I can't speak for other teams, but that won't change for us."
 
DeBoer will keep the same lineup he used for the opening two games of the series, meaning rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be a healthy scratch for the eighth time in the last nine games, dating back to the regular season.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Devils for Game 3:

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 Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:25 PM

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

DeBoer expects Devils' special teams will improve

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer isn't too concerned over the fact his team is losing the special teams battle through two games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers.
 
Still, he expects the penalty-killing and power-play units to be running full throttle on Tuesday in front of the hometown faithful for Game 3 at Prudential Center.
 
The Devils established a post-expansion NHL record with an 89.6 percent penalty-killing efficiency during the regular season, but suddenly find themselves struggling to contain the Panthers' power-play.
 
Through two games, the Panthers have gone 3-for-7 (42.9 percent), including 2-for-4 in Sunday's series-tying triumph. The Devils' power play, meanwhile, is 1-for-8 in the series, finishing 0-for-2 on Sunday while generating just a single shot with the man advantage.
 
DeBoer was asked if he is disheartened knowing the club is losing the special teams battle at this stage.
 
"I anticipate a turnaround [at home], but you have to give [Florida] some credit," DeBoer said. "They've done a good job in both those areas. I think if you look around the League, there are battles in every round across the board. We didn't expect anything less, so I don't think disheartened is the right word for it. We expected it would be tough, and this is going to be a good, long series."
 
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur knows one or two games doesn't make a series.
 
"We're not looking at playoff games, we're looking at a playoff series," he said. "Three of the next four games will be in our building, so we're in a good position and we just have to take advantage of that."
 
Brodeur feels that the veterans on the team, including Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora and Ilya Kovalchuk, must show the younger players the way.
 
"When you've been through the battles, you understand the ups and downs," Brodeur said. "I think we've accomplished what we wanted to do in Florida [with the split]. We have to build on that, especially on our third period [in Game 2], and take that momentum we had there into Tuesday's home game."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:09 PM

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

Parise creating chances, still searching for first goal

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise said he is feeling fine after taking a shot from defenseman Bryce Salvador in his team's Game 2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
 
"My back was a little sore after that one," Parise said while laughing. "But I'm fine."
 
The only thing that discouraged Parise on Sunday was the fact he couldn't find a way to put the puck in the net despite the numerous chances he created and had on Florida veteran keeper Jose Theodore.
 
Parise logged 21:49 of ice time on Sunday and generated a team-high six shots while delivering five hits.
 
"I've had some great opportunities and it's frustrating, but other than that, I like the way I've been playing," Parise told reporters on Monday. "As long as [the chances] keep coming, eventually they'll start going in."
 
Parise said that while it would have been nice to take both games in Florida, earning a split was the next best thing. The Devils and the Panthers will play Game 3 on Tuesday at Prudential Center.
 
"We'd love to be up 2-0 right now, but that's not the case," he said. "I'm not going to say it's a blown opportunity. I've had some good opportunities and they'll go in, but it is frustrating when they're not going in."
 
It doesn't surprise Devils coach Pete DeBoer that Parise would put that type of pressure on himself to contribute on the offensive end.
 
"He wants to be a difference maker, but he knows it'll come," DeBoer said. "He's been through these situations before and, for me, it's about the chances he's creating. If he wasn't creating chances, then we might worry, but he's created a handful and it's just a matter of time."
 
Parise said that the Panthers generate plenty of momentum off their power-play and that the Devils just need to remain disciplined.
 
"That's something we have to be better at," Parise said. "I think they get a lot of momentum off their power play. I feel 5-on-5, we've done a great job."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:01 PM

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

Devils aiming for return to home playoff success

NEWARK, N.J. -- Now that the Florida Panthers have earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff victory in more than a decade, the New Jersey Devils believe it's time to hold serve and notch their first home postseason triumph in two years.
 
The Devils will host the Panthers on Tuesday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series here at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN). Florida evened the series Sunday with a 4-2 victory at BankAtlantic Center. It was the team's first playoff win since beating the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals April 17, 1997.
 
"We're all looking forward to playing at home," Devils captain Zach Parise said via a conference call Monday. "Playing in front of our fans … we know it'll be a great atmosphere. To be honest, though, none of us really minded starting on the road and we got a split. Now we will have the excitement of playing in our building."
 
The Devils on Tuesday will be looking for their first postseason victory at Prudential Center since April 16, 2010, when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals.
 
"All the good teams play well on home ice," forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. "They use their home-ice advantage. If you want to be considered one of the elite teams in the NHL, you have to play better on home ice. In the playoffs, it's important to play better on home ice, that's for sure."
 
The Devils did not practice Monday after flying north from Florida in the morning. Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday that rest is invaluable for his team, which has the oldest average age in the NHL at 30.3 years.
 
DeBoer, who said there will be no lineup changes for Tuesday, was asked how he might be able to bottle that energy the team exhibited in the final period of Game 2 for a full 60 minutes.
 
"That's the waves of momentum that you ride in the playoffs … you see it everywhere," DeBoer said. "I don't know why. When we had the 3-0 lead in Game 1, we couldn't come back with another period like that and I'm sure [Florida coach] Kevin Dineen would say the same thing about their third period on Sunday but that's playoff hockey.
 
"Overall, I like our game, I like where we're at. We made mistakes on Sunday and they made us pay, but we feel confident moving forward."
 
Here is the Devils' projected lineup for Game 3:
 
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 Friday, 04.13.2012 / 5:01 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Senators shake up routine in search of Game 2 spark

NEW YORK -- The Ottawa Senators broke away from the normal routine Friday following a tough loss Thursday in order to refresh and prepare for a long series.

Instead of holding practice at Madison Square Garden the day before Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the New York Rangers on Saturday, the Senators skated at Chelsea Piers on Friday afternoon.

While it was a fun experience for the players, coach Paul MacLean also put his team through a pretty intense, hour-long workout.

"It was a good, sharp practice," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "It was a different atmosphere to practice in, with the open concept with the windows, but it was a really focused practice. I think you can tell we wanted to make sure we were sharp, and we worked on some things we wanted to do better. But I thought the guys were really crisp … it was more of a workmanlike day."

Still, for some players, like goalie Craig Anderson, a pair of sunglasses would have probably come in handy.

"It was interesting since there was a glare of the sun off the ice, but it was fun," Anderson said. "It was good to get out there, get some confidence and enjoy ourselves. We wanted to keep working on our game. Work on the little things that, going forward, will help us get to where we want to be.

"But I must say, the guys were taking advantage of the goalies with that glare on the ice."

Spezza feels that MacLean's coaching philosophy all season will only help the team in a tight series against the Rangers.

"I think Paul tries to get us to play a game that correlates well to playoff hockey," Spezza said. "We like to get pucks deep, bang the body and get in on the forecheck and that's why we feel comfortable playing playoff games. I don't feel like we have to change too much because that foundation we've been building as a team all season is how we want to play in the playoffs."

That's something that, perhaps, wasn't evident in years' past.

"Maybe we were a little more run-and-gun and scored a lot of goals in previous years," Spezza said. "You're not going to have a lot of high-scoring games in the playoffs, so we're used to playing tight games. We're not used to blowing teams out, so we're comfortable in those tight games."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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