SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida coach Kevin Dineen partly blamed himself for his team’s poor first period in Friday’s Stanley Cup Playoff opener against New Jersey, and he expects things to be much different in Game 2 on Sunday.
The Panthers fell behind 3-0 to the Devils after being outshot 26-9 in the first period, and that was the difference in New Jersey’s 3-2 victory.
Dineen said he and his players learned their lesson about what the focus needs to be early on.
“Controllables,” Dineen said Sunday morning. “What can you control during the game, and how you react to adversity and things that happen during the course of the game? That’s what I told them, ‘Hey, you’re dealing with a rookie coach.’ I think what happened during that game is I got my focus in the wrong direction early and I think the players read off that a little bit.
“It’s a matter of all of us keeping the focus directed into what you can control, which is what’s going to happen the next time you step on the ice, killing the penalty if that’s the situation, going out there and reacting to both positives and things that may not go your way and just keeping a little more even keel.”
While they’re hoping to avoid a repeat performance of the first period, the Panthers head into Game 2 with some confidence because of the way they responded across the final two periods
Even though the comeback attempt fell short, Florida out-shot New Jersey 17-12 during the final two periods. The Panthers were particularly impressive in the second period when they scored both of their goals while out-shooting the Devils, 11-6.
“You’ve got to run on the confidence we got in the second and third,” said wing Kris Versteeg, who scored Florida’s second goal with 4:18 left in the second. “We know we can play with these guys. They’re obviously a very skilled and very defensively sound team at the same time, but when we play our game, we’re a very good team, too. We got the confidence that we can play with these guys and now it’s about going out there and putting a full 60 (minutes) together.”
The Devils fully expect a better first-period effort from the Panthers on Sunday, but they’re not looking to change much from what they did.
“I would expect them to be a little more aggresssive,” captain Zach Parise said. “But we’ve got to give ourselves some credit, too. We had a great first period. Regardless of what they did right, what they did do wrong, we just had a good first period. There’s no way around that. But I’m sure they’ll play a little more relaxed. On both sides, there’s always first-game jitters. I expect them to be a little more relaxed and at the same time try to dictate the first 5-10 minutes of the game, which you always expect in the playoffs.”
It sure wasn’t lack of intensity that got the Panthers in trouble in the first 20 minutes of Friday’s game. Florida got the first two shots on goal and delivered some big hits.
If anything, maybe the Panthers were too amped.
“They’re going to play harder, but they tried to do that early in the first,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. “But we fed off of that and got turnovers and were able to counteract what they were trying to do. They might be more patient, who knows? They might think, let’s stay in the game and let’s grind it out. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. You can’t just throw everything at once at the other team. It’s 60 minutes and maybe plus.
“We expect the best out of them. We’ve been in that position before to lose the first two games. Mentally, it’s hard to come back. We’re going to try to create that separation in the series, but it’s going to be a tough one.”
The Panthers, whose franchise is on a nine-game playoff losing streak dating back to 1997, will look to avoid joining Vancouver and Pittsburgh as teams in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs to lose the first two games at home.
The Devils, on the other hand, will be looking to go up 2-0 in a series for the 11th time in franchise history. New Jersey is a perfect 10-0 when winning the first two games.
This also would be the fourth time the Devils have taken the first two games on the road. The first three times occurred in the 1995 playoffs when New Jersey won the first of its three Stanley Cup titles.
“It would be great for us to go back to our own rink up 2-0,” Parise said. “That’s the plan. We didn’t come down here with the mind-set of let’s go for a split, like people think. We came down with the intent to win two games. We got off on the right foot. But we have to play even better. We really do. We have to be better in a lot of areas because we know they’re going to be.”
For the Panthers, the biggest improvement clearly has to come in how they start the game.
“We certainly looked like we were overwhelmed,” Dineen said. “The Devils came out flying and our response wasn’t very good. Lesson learned. They’ve been a good starting team all year. It’s something we talked about. Now we’ve seen it live. It’s how you respond. We expect a better response tonight.”