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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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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

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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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 / 4:50 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Smithson bringing faceoff ability, physical play

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers acquired veteran center Jerred Smithson a few days before the trading deadline to add depth up front, bring a physical presence and help on faceoffs.

After Smithson was a healthy scratch in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey, coach Kevin Dineen decided he could use what Smithson had to offer.

There's been no looking back.

Smithson has recorded only one assist in the four playoff games he has played, but he's contributed in other ways.

Game 5 was a perfect example.

Even though he didn't make it on the scoresheet in the Panthers' 3-0 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, Smithson was credited with a team-high nine hits -- four more than anybody else on the team -- and also was a perfect 6-for-6 on faceoffs.

"That is my game," Smithson said of the physical play. "I'm not a huge offensive guy, even though this time of year you need to do a little bit of everything. You need those grinders to try to contribute offensively and the skilled guys, not necessarily to play physical, but to get in there and bump and check. It takes every little bit of effort this time of year. For myself, I know what I have to do to be effective and to help the team. Whether it was nine [hits] or just a couple, you've got to go out there and do it."

Ironically, the player that Smithson replaced in the lineup for Game 3 was Wojtek Wolski, the Panthers' other trade-deadline acquisition.

Wolski began the series playing on a line with Scottie Upshall and Shawn Matthias primarily because he offered more offensive potential than Smithson.

Smithson, who also had been a healthy scratch for four of the last five regular season games, could do little but wait for his turn.

"To be honest, it was frustrating there for a little while," said Smithson, whom the Panthers acquired from Nashville on Feb. 24 for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. "That being said, we had such a good team and we were heading in the right direction. I was happy for the guys here, for the organization to finally get in and make the playoffs, and then to get that call, it was a relief. A lot of times you kind of don't know where you stand. I was ready and just waiting for the call. I'm glad I got it.

"Being around the game long enough now, it really does take everyone. Guys get banged up, whether it's injuries, suspensions, yada, yada, you have to be ready both physically and mentally. That's something I tried to pride myself upon is to be a good pro and be there for my teammates. If they need me, I'll be there."

Dineen said the change from Wolski to Smithson was a mattering of "tinkering," but there hasn't been any tinkering since.

Smithson hasn't given Dineen any reason to change things around.

"What Smithson does is that gives them a little bit of stability out there," Dineen said. "They know they have someone that's very responsible on the defensive side of things and they can create on the offense as well."

Smithson and Upshall actually were teammates in Nashville in 2006-07 and the following season until Upshall was traded to Philadelphia, but Smithson said he didn't recall playing on the same line very often.

"Maybe a couple of games," Smithson said. "It seems such a long time ago now. He's an easy guy to play with. He works real hard, he skates well, he can get in there on the forecheck. For myself, it's get in on the forecheck, get the puck loose or give him a good dump and let him use his speed. Both guys are real easy to play with."


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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 3:04 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison on ice for Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were on the ice Wednesday, but whether they'll be in the lineup for the Florida Panthers for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Thursday against the New Jersey Devils (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN) remains unknown.

Theodore and Garrison were among six players who took the ice for a 30-minute optional skate at the Panthers' practice facility.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury. Scott Clemmensen stopped 39 of 42 shots in Florida's 3-2 overtime loss, but coach Kevin Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore will be in net for Game 7 -- health permitting.

"I just watched him there for a few minutes and he looks pretty good out there," Dineen said. "That's encouraging for us. It gives us that option to go with him [Thursday]. That will be a health-based decision.

"I've been playing this game all series long who we're going to start, and the truth of the matter is there's a question mark because we have trust in both our goalies. But Theo has been our go-to guy, and if he's available, he'll be the one running, I think."

Theodore shut out the Devils in his last start, making 30 saves in the Panthers' 3-0 victory in Game 5 Saturday.

He took part in Florida's practice Monday but wasn't on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday.

"It's hard," Theodore said Wednesday. "After a shutout, you've got a good feel. You want to get back in there. You feel good about where your game is at and then you have a little setback. Obviously it was frustrating to watch the last game, but today is a new day. It was good to be back on the ice."

Theodore has appeared in only one Game 7 in his 16 NHL seasons, but it was a memorable one.

Playing for Montreal, Theodore helped the Canadiens complete their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit with a 2-0 shutout at Boston in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

"It was a fun night," Theodore said. "Coming into Game 7 and winning in a shutout was obviously a good feeling and it was fun. It seems like it's been a long time, but you still remember that feeling after the game. There's nothing like playing a Game 7, and when you do accomplish a win, it's really a good feeling."

Theodore would love nothing more than to get the chance for more Game 7 heroics.

"I feel better than [Tuesday] for sure," he said. "It was a good day today, but then again, when you play in such an important game as Game 7, you've got to make sure you're able to really help your team and not be a distraction.

"Obviously it's do-or-die. These are the kind of games you want to be part of. Everybody when you're a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, it's a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."

Garrison, for his part, is playing in the playoffs for the first time.

His goal in the final minute of the first period of Game 3 helped the Panthers rally from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.

However, he was a late scratch prior to Game 4 and hadn't been on the ice since then prior to his skate Wednesday.

"I've still got another day and a half here to prepare myself," Garrison said. "Obviously you want to play, but you want to do what's best for the team. You don't want to put the guys on the ice in jeopardy by any means. I'm just going to take this day and a half. If I'm going to play, I'm going to make sure I can go out there and play the way I play."

Joining Garrison and Theodore on the ice Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krys Barch and Wojtek Wolski, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.
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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison part of Panthers' optional practice

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were back on the ice Wednesday when the Florida Panthers held an optional practice.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury.

Garrison has missed the last three games of the series after being a late scratch prior to Game 4 Thursday. He hadn't practiced since.

Along with Garrison and Theodore, the only players on the ice for the Panthers on Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krystofer Barch and Mike Santorelli, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.

Game 7 is scheduled for Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the BankAtlantic Center.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 12:25 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Brodeur fights through downtime

NEWARK, N.J. -- Martin Brodeur was ice cold and even admitted he had to fight his mind from wandering.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 3-2-0
GAA: 2.22 | SVP: 0.911
It's a good thing he won that fight, because the Devils' season might be over had he not.

Despite facing only four shots in the second period and just three in the third, Brodeur had to come up with a season-saving save on Mikael Samuelsson with 2:31 left in regulation Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Mark Fayne whiffed on a clearing attempt, turning the puck over inside the defensive zone. Samuelsson got the puck, cut across the slot and tried to beat Brodeur at the right post. However, Brodeur came out well past the elbow of the blue paint, made himself big, and gobbled up the shot.
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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
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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