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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."
 
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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
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:30 PM

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

Projected Game 6 lineup for Panthers

NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen said he still has a few decisions to make regarding his lineup for Game 6 Tuesday against the Devils at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). He has to get a medical report on Jose Theodore before deciding on a starting goalie, and he's not sure what defenseman Keaton Ellerby's status is just yet.

Theodore did not practice Tuesday morning, but Ellerby was on the ice after missing Game 5 with a lower-body injury.

Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen basically said he was going to start Game 6, so we'll take him on his word and put him in the lineup. If Ellerby is able to play, Tyson Strachan will likely come out of the lineup.

Here is what the Panthers lineup could look like for Game 6:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Tyson Strachan/Keaton Ellerby

Scott Clemmensen
Jacob Markstrom

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:24 PM

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

Panthers believe they have found close-out mentality

NEWARK, N.J. -- Several of the Panthers veteran players have been in this situation before; up 3-2 in a playoff series with the potential of closing out the opponent in Game 6. However, as a team they are entering that very situation for the first time Tuesday night at Prudential Center against the New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

If recent history is an indicator, the Panthers understand that nothing is guaranteed when you're closing in on something special.

Florida had several opportunities to capture the Southeast Division title late in the regular season, but still had to go down to the very last day of the season to get the job done. The Panthers let Washington hang around and even have a chance to win the division on the last day of the season by going 1-3-5 in the nine games prior to their regular-season finale against Carolina.

The Panthers finally got the job done on April 7, when they beat the Hurricanes 4-1 to win their first division title.

"I think after 10 years of not making the playoffs and you're constantly getting bombarded with that everyday, there's no doubt that it weighed on our shoulders in the last two weeks of the season," Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. "You look back on it now and it's easy to say that yeah, we were squeezing our sticks. We wanted to do it so bad for each other, for the organization, for the fans."

The Panthers don't anticipate the pressure of potentially closing out the series to be an issue Tuesday, but Devils coach Pete DeBoer has already reminded his team of how much of a struggle Florida had down the stretch when it controlled its own destiny.

"When the pressure is on to finish somebody off, it's a different game," DeBoer said.

The Devils know all about it. Three years ago they were up 3-2 on Carolina heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They went into Raleigh and got beat 4-0.

The Devils also lost Game 7 at home.

"It's a hard game (when you're the team leading 3-2)," Devils left wing Zach Parise told NHL.com. "I remember when we were up on Carolina, we went down there and they kicked our butts. It was a really hard game. Their fans were crazy and they just blew us out of the rink. Then all of a sudden Game 7 is a crapshoot."

Obviously the Panthers don't want to gamble with a Game 7, even though it would be in their own building. That's why they feel thinking back to the difficult time they had at the end of the regular season can serve as a motivator now.

"We made the playoffs and I think we learned from it, that it is hard to close out games," veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson told NHL.com. "I think this group, even if guys have been around, as a group you learn what it takes to close out games. We did it in the end. That was big. We ended on a good note. The last game (against Carolina) for us was good."

The Hurricanes, though, were only playing for pride on April 7. The Devils are playing to keep their season alive Tuesday.

"The key is not to focus on that," Weiss said. "It's just to go out and go through your gameday routine, do the same things you've been doing all year. You know in the back of your mind there's a little bit more on the line, but the key is not to worry about, 'Hey, we've got a chance to move on.' You've got to go through your routine … and at the end of the night hopefully the result is what we want it to be."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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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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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:12 PM

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

DeBoer expects Devils' best in must-win situation

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils hit the ice on Monday for the first time since their loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, skating hard and with a purpose at AmeriHealth Pavilion.
 
All the players were on the ice, including rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, who has been a healthy scratch for 10 of the team's last 11 games, including the regular season. Coach Pete DeBoer had the usual line combinations intact as his team went through a brisk, businesslike, 40-minute workout in preparation for the Panthers. The coach also told the media not to expect any line adjustments for Game 6 on Tuesday, in which the Devils are facing elimination, down 3-2 in the series.
 
"I think we needed to ramp up our intensity [at practice]," DeBoer said. "It was one area we felt wasn't high enough last game, and that was part of the focus [Monday]. It was short and was a hard practice, and that's how we have to play [Tuesday] night."

Goalie Martin Brodeur, who will likely make his 176th straight playoff start on Tuesday, doesn't believe the extra day off will effect either team at this point in the series.
 
"If we don't win, we're not playing anymore," Brodeur said. "It's a tough situation to be in, but we have to embrace it."
 
DeBoer anticipates his team to be playing their best in a must-win situation.
 
"I expect we'll be very good," he said. "When our backs have been up against the wall at different points or the pressure has been on this season, we've responded in a positive fashion every time. That's what I expect.
 
"Pressure comes with playoffs. I don't think you have to say anything about it. The guys understand the situation they're in. They can count, and they know we've got to win."
 
Devils captain Zach Parise said there's pressure on everyone to contribute in a game of this magnitude, and he expects that to happen.
 
"We had a good skate, up-tempo practice," Parise said. "We did some things we needed to work on, and hopefully we'll be better. There's pressure on everyone … everyone has to have their best game. This isn't an individual sport and it never will be."
 
If the Devils are eliminated in either six or seven games, would Brodeur consider it one of his most disappointing playoff setbacks?
 
"I'll be honest, losing in the Stanley Cup Final [in 2001] was probably the hardest thing I ever went through and, then, losing to the Rangers in the conference final [in 1994] was probably the second hardest," Brodeur said. "When you're so far from the goal and you lose, it's hard at the moment, but I think you go over it but look at the team that had success and played you and realize what they were able to do. But when you're so close, and go through adversity and success, you're like one of the other 29 teams … you're not going to win the Stanley Cup. But it's worth giving it a shot. I was lucky to win three of them, and the upside is a lot better than the downside."
 
Here are the projected lineups for the Devils in Game 6:
 
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, 04.23.2012 / 11:15 AM

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

Ellerby back on ice, Garrison remains out

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' defensive corps remained in flux after their practice Monday.

Jason Garrison didn't take part in the short practice, but Keaton Ellerby was back on the ice after missing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey.

Garrison was a late scratch for Game 4 Thursday and also sat out the Panthers' 3-0 victory in Game 5 with a lower-body injury.

Coach Kevin Dineen said Garrison would be making the trip to New Jersey, where the team will meet Tuesday in Game 6.

"It's day-to-day," Dineen said. "We're encouraged that he may get a skate in tomorrow and see if he has a chance of playing tomorrow night."

Ellerby, meanwhile, sat out Game 5 after sustaining a lower-body injury when he was checked into the New Jersey bench by Stephen Gionta. Ellerby, who was in the lineup in Game 4 in place of Garrison, was seeing his first action since March 15.

Dineen said Ellerby's status would be determined by how his body will react to skating on Monday.

With Garrison and Ellerby both out, Tyson Strachan played in his first NHL playoff game in Game 5 after being recalled from San Antonio.

Strachan, who played 67 regular season over parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, appeared in 15 games for the Panthers in 2011-12.

Strachan played 13:26 in Game 5 and finished with a plus-1 ratio.

"He stepped right in and kept things simple," Dineen said. "He created some offense with his powerful shot. That's the advantage of having a guy that's played 15 games during the regular season. He's got a little bit of familiarity with our group, and I thought he did a good job for us."

Along with Garrison, the other player who didn't practice Monday was forward Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann played in Saturday's game after not being on the ice for the morning skate.

"Just keep giving him maintenance days," Dineen said. "He seems to react very well to days off. That's the thinking with him."

Fleischmann's place on the Panthers' top line in Monday's practice was taken by Wojtek Wolski, who has been a healthy scratch the last three games.

Here were the Panthers' practice forward lines:

Wojtek Wolski - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Extras:

Krystofer Barch
Mike Santorelli
Matt Bradley (injured)
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Posted On Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 6:02 PM

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

Is this it for Brodeur and Parise in New Jersey?

NEWARK, N.J. -- It has come to that time of the hour where the New Jersey Devils might have to contemplate life without goalie Martin Brodeur and captain Zach Parise if the season does indeed come to a sudden halt on Tuesday at Prudential Center.
 
The Devils need to win the final two games of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Florida Panthers if they have any intention of extending their season in 2011-12.
 
At the same time, both Brodeur and Parise will become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. While the chances of Brodeur signing with another team seem rather unlikely at his age, that will not be the case with Parise.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 6:32 PM

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

Garrison scratched for Game 5

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers again will be without defenseman Jason Garrison for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey.

Garrison was a late scratch Thursday because of a lower-body injury and coach Kevin Dineen said Saturday morning a decision on his status for Game 5 would come after warmups. But Garrison wasn't on the ice for warmups.

His status was described by the team Thursday as "day-to-day."

Taking Garrison's place on defense Saturday is Tyson Strachan, who was called up from San Antonio.

The 27-year-old veteran, who played 15 regular season games for the Panthers this season and has played 82 career games, will be making his playoff debut.

Keaton Ellerby, who replaced Garrison in the lineup Thursday but sustained a lower-body injury in the second period, also was among the Panthers scratches Saturday.

Jose Theodore is starting in net for the Panthers after Scott Clemmensen got the nod in Game 4.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 2:09 PM

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

Panthers don't expect any more help from Brodeur

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers saw Martin Brodeur struggle against them earlier this week, only to bounce back with a more Brodeur-like performance.

And while they’d love nothing more than to get a few more soft goals in Game 5, they know the odds of Brodeur letting that happen again aren’t good.

“He’s a world-class goalie,” Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said after the morning skate Saturday. “The game when he got pulled, he wasn’t at this best, but the last game we played him he was on top of his game. He stopped every shot. We just have to keep putting pucks on net. Eventually it’s going to go in, we know that.”

Brodeur was pulled after giving up three goals in Game 3 when the Panthers rallied from a quick 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.

But in Game 4, Brodeur stopped all 26 shots he faced to set an NHL record with his 24th career playoff shutout.

“You play against a goalie like that, you don’t expect him to let in weak goals, but at the end of the day he’s human,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “If you keep shooting pucks at him and keep getting traffic in front of him, you’re going to find a way to score some goals. If he sees it without any traffic, he’s going to save it, so we’ve got to get bodies in front of him and try and get screens and rebounds, second and third chances. That’s the way you’re going to score.”

For New Jersey, Brodeur’s impressive performance Thursday is one big reason to feel confident heading into Game 5.

“We always expect him to play like that,” captain Zach Parise said. “For whatever reason, things just didn’t go well in Game 3 and he bounced back and had a great game in Game 4. We all expect the same thing tonight. Not putting any pressure on him or anything, that’s just the way we expect him to play game in and game out."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 2:03 PM

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

Prjoected lineups for Game 5

SUNRISE, Fla. — After going with Scott Clemmensen in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey, it appears Florida coach Kevin Dineen will go back to Jose Theodore in net for Game 5.

As is his custom, Dineen made no announcement about his starting goalie after the morning skate, but Theodore worked out at the net normally featuring the starter.

Theodore started the first three games, but was pulled only 6:16 into Game 3 after New Jersey quickly took a 3-0 lead.

Clemmensen stopped all 19 shots he faced in relief of Theodore, helping the Panthers rally for a 4-3 victory and earning his first career playoff start in the process.

Dineen said he never has to worry about his goalies’ state of mind when making his decisions.

“They’re always guys that not just this year, it’s in years past, they understand the situation,” Dineen said. “Nothing has to be painted out to them and we expect them to go out and do the job like they have their whole careers.”

Injured defensemen Jason Garrison and Keaton Ellerby were among the only three players not taking part in the morning skate. The other was forward Tomas Fleischmann, but Dineen explained that the Panthers were “trying to save all his energies for the game.”

For the Devils, coach Pete DeBoer indicated his lineup will be the same as it has been for the first four games of the series.

The Devils held an optional skate on Saturday, and five players took to the ice. The group included Ilya Kovalchuk, backup goalie Johan Hedberg, and the three healthy scratches — Adam Larsson, Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen.

Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique were the only two Devils players who didn’t take part in practice Friday in New Jersey.

Here are the projected lineups for Game 5 between the Devils and Panthers:

DEVILS

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

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 1:52 PM

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

Devils hope record-setting PK back in control

SUNRISE, Fla. — After finally shutting down the Florida power play in Game 4, the New Jersey Devils are hoping they have gotten their record-setting penalty kill back on track.

The Devils, who set a modern-era record with an 89.6 percent efficiency rate on the PK in the regular season, watched Florida go 6-for-10 on the power play in the first three games.

But New Jersey killed off all six Florida power plays Thursday in a 4-0 victory in Game 4.

“It seems like special teams has played a huge part in this series,” Devils captain Zach Parise said Saturday morning. “Their power play has beaten us single-handedly in some games. It was really important for us to get that first kill last game. Everyone on the penalty kill relaxed a little bit after we got that one.”

Florida, which finished tied for seventh in power-play efficiency in the regular season at 18.5 percent, went 5-for-7 with the man advantage in Games 2 and 3.

Not surprisingly, the Panthers won both games to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

In Game 2 at BankAtlantic Center, Devils defenseman Andy Greene was called for a tripping penalty 11 seconds into the game and Stephen Weiss scored on the power play just 23 seconds in to give Florida a quick lead.

Weiss added a second power-play goal 1:12 into the second period and the Panthers went on to win 4-2.

The Panthers’ 3-for-3 performance on the power play in Game 3 was the difference in their 4-3 comeback victory after they trailed 3-0 after only 6:16.

Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk said the big difference for the penalty-killing units in Game 4 was playing more under control.

"In the first two, three games, we tried to do too much,” Kovalchuk said. “We tried to do somebody’s job and got out of position because of the emotions. But in Game 4 it was really focusing on your own job, what you’ve got to do to get the job done. That’s why we were good.”

While New Jersey shut out the Panthers power play in Game 4, its own power play went 2-for-4.

The first goal of the game, and ultimately the game-winner, came when Zach Parise tipped Marek Zidlicky’s shot from the point with the man advantage in the second period.

“You look at the four games and for the most part whoever’s won the special teams battle has ended up winning the game,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “That happens everywhere in the league. We knew going into the series how good their power play was. I’m hopeful that we found a way to shut it down and that it’ll continue."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 11:45 AM

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

Panthers' Garrison questionable, Strachan recalled

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers once again could be without key defenseman Jason Garrison in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Saturday.

Garrison, who was a late scratch in Game 4 on Thursday because of a lower-body injury, did not take part in the Panthers’ morning skate Saturday and coach Kevin Dineen said his availability will be determined after pregame warmups.

“He’s still a possibility,” Dineen said. “To put him out there for a 13-minute skate didn’t make a lot of sense this morning. We’ll see where he’s at. He’s questionable for tonight. We’re cautious and we’ll see where we end up.”

The Panthers, who also will be without Keaton Ellerby for Game 5, still had six defensemen on the ice at the morning skate after calling up Tyson Strachan from San Antonio of the AHL.

Ellerby, playing his first game since March 15 as Garrison’s replacement, sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Game 5.

The 27-year-old Strachan played in 15 regular season games for the Panthers after being called up in January, recording three points and a plus-1 ratio, and was signed to a one-year contract extension the following month.

“He’s played some really strong stretches of hockey, so if needed, certainly he can go in and do the job for us,” Dineen said. “The organization has faith in him. We signed him to a contract after a month here and I think that was very deserving that he came in and showed that he can play a regular shift in the NHL. And if he can do it in the regular season, he can do it in the playoffs.”

Strachan has appeared in 82 NHL games during his career, but has yet to play in a playoff game.

He played in San Antonio’s 5-4 overtime victory against the Chicago Wolves on Thursday in Game 1 of their AHL playoff series and flew to South Florida on Friday.

“There’s mixed emotions about that,” Strachan said of leaving his Rampage teammates behind. “Obviously you want them to be winning down there, but at the same time the chance to be up here and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a hard one to pass up. Just excited to be here and help out if they need me.”

Garrison, who led all Florida defensemen in the regular season with 16 goals and logged the second-most ice time behind Brian Campbell, clearly is an important player for the Panthers.

But the Devils said they weren’t concerning themselves with Garrison’s status.

“I don’t know exactly who’s in and not in,” captain Zach Parise said. “I don’t know if Garrison (is playing) or who they’ve got in. Regardless, our approach is going to be the same. It’s always been try to make it hard on their D, get it below them, forecheck hard. They’ve got offensive guys that want to jump in the rush, so we’ve got to make it harder for them to do that.”

Teammate Ilya Kovalchuk was more succinct: “It’s their problem, it’s not our problem. We just have to think about our game if he’s playing or not.”

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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:20 PM

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

Gionta proving to be a hit centering Devils' fourth line

NEWARK, N.J. -- An obvious hole needed to be filled when center Jacob Josefson suffered a fractured wrist late in the season, altering the lineup plan for New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Looking back, DeBoer admits the one name that kept coming up as a more-than-capable replacement was 5-foot-7, 185-pound Stephen Gionta.
 
"He hadn't played center in probably a year, but came in and has seamlessly jumped into that spot and given us everything we could ask for … I can't say enough about him," DeBoer told the media following his team's 4-0 victory over Florida on Thursday in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
 
The Devils conducted an optional workout at Prudential Center on Friday before departing for Sunrise, Fla., for Game 5 on Saturday at BankAtlantic Center. The best-of-seven series is tied, 2-2.
 
"Stephen's been a great, great story," DeBoer continued. "Here's a kid who never even had a game all year with us, but has come in and given us a real spark. He's enthusiastic and dependable."
 
Strange, but it almost sounds like DeBoer is referring to the elder Gionta, Brian, who just happens to be the 33-year-old captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
 
"He has a lot of the same traits as his brother, and his brother has a history of rising to the occasion in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "I think Stephen is one of those types of guys."
 
Gionta, who was recalled from Albany on April 6 for the second time in three days, had six goals and 16 points in 56 games in the American Hockey League this season. The 28-year-old undrafted forward out of Boston College has been with the organization since the 2005-06 season. The move to bring him up is certainly paying off right now.
 
"I try to bring energy to the team when I get an opportunity," Gionta told NHL.com. "Hopefully, I can give the team quality minutes out there when I do get that opportunity."
 
As you might expect, Gionta, who averages 6:41 quality minutes each game in the playoffs, does communicate with big brother quite frequently.
 
"We stay in touch pretty good and we've talked quite a few times since the original call-up, so it's been nice and he's shown great support," Gionta said. "He just told me to go out, have fun and play my game and let the chips fall."
 
Right now, Gionta is playing a key role centering the club's fourth line alongside left wing Ryan Carter and right wing Steve Bernier.
 
"I don't know if I'm surprised [to see how well Gionta has played], but it's nice to see," Carter told NHL.com. "A guy enters a scenario where he's playing playoff games right off the bat, and having confidence. That says a lot about the guy, and he's enjoying it, too."
 
Through four games in this series, Gionta's line has produced three goals, five points, a plus-7 rating and 15 shots on goal. Gionta has also delivered six hits, including three crunching blows in Game 4 that generated plenty of excitement on the bench.
 
"I think we're finding success in not trying to do too much," Carter said. "We're trying to keep the puck behind their goal line, wear them down a little bit. We just want to make it difficult on them. Our game right now is making them go 200 feet and forcing them to battle."
 
"That fourth line has done a great job for us," DeBoer said. "They've chipped in a couple of goals and have generated momentum."
 
Gionta has played five games since his recall from Albany. He scored his first NHL goal in the season finale and has a goal and an assist in the playoffs being moved from wing to center.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:12 PM

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

Garrison could return for Game 5, but Ellerby out

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers could have defenseman Jason Garrison back for Saturday's Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against New Jersey, but coach Kevin Dineen said Keaton Ellerby will not be available.

Ellerby sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Thursday's 4-0 loss at New Jersey in Game 4 when he was checked by Devils center Stephen Gionta into the Devils bench where the open door meets the stanchion. Ellerby was making his first appearance since March 15.

Ellerby was in the lineup because Garrison was a late scratch because of a lower-body injury. Dineen said the Panthers were "cautiously optimistic" Garrison would be able to play Saturday.

Dineen said the Panthers might call up a defenseman from the AHL's San Antonio Rampage, with the most likely candidate being Tyson Strachan.


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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:08 PM

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

Henrique excited, honored by Calder nomination



NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils rookie center Adam Henrique didn't appear too surprised when asked if he expected to be named one of three finalists for this year's Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.
 
But he's certainly honored to be in the mix.
 
"I was excited," Henrique told the media following practice on Friday. "Obviously, it's a big honor to be nominated and be a part of the group, so it's something I'm very excited about and proud of."
 
Henrique remained off the ice on Friday, along with Ilya Kovalchuk, for some rest, but both will be in the lineup on Saturday when the Devils play the Florida Panthers in Game 5 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
 
The League announced on Friday that Henrique, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers were named finalists for the Calder. The winner will be announced in Las Vegas on June 20.
 
Henrique is actually the first Devil to be voted a Calder finalist since Scott Gomez won the award in 2000. Martin Brodeur also won it for the Devils in 1994.
 
"It's a great honor, the Calder is one of these trophies that's once in a lifetime, so for you to be part of the top rookies is special," Brodeur said. "He's had a heck of a season, and played like a veteran out there. He was responsible, being on the power-play, penalty-kill and in five-on-five situations while playing on the top line.
 
"Sometimes, when you play on teams expected to win, it's a little tougher, but to play as a rookie, he adjusted really well."
 
The 22-year-old Henrique, selected in the third round (No. 82) by the Devils in 2008, earned a full-time spot in the lineup this season after Jacob Josefson fractured his right clavicle on Oct. 21. The Devils were already without center Travis Zajac, who was coming off Achilles surgery in August, so the need for a quality center became of the utmost importance.
 
Henrique was certainly up to the challenge.
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer decided to insert the youngster between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk and he would flourish.
 
"I think things started to click when early while playing with Zach and Kovy," Henrique said. "Once we started playing well, it gave me extra confidence to be here and stick around. That was a big confidence boost for me.
 
"Due to the injuries, this was something I wanted to take advantage of and prove to the staff and everyone here that I could play and fit in with those guys. Once things started going, it carried through the year."
 
The Brantford, Ontario native finished first among all first-year players with 35 assists and third with 51 points in 74 games. He also tied for the League lead with four shorthanded goals. Henrique finished one point behind Landeskog (22 goals, 52 points) and Nugent-Hopkins (18 goals, 52 points) for the rookie scoring lead.
 
"It was a hard thing to do at his age," Parise said. "In your first year, there's pressure and sometimes it's tough to cope with when you go through those funks. He never really changed his game whether the points were coming or not, though, and that was key."
 
Henrique led all rookies with 501 faceoff wins on 1,026 draws (48.8 percent). He ranked 10th among rookie forwards with 83 hits, third with 57 blocked shots and second with 49 takeaways during the regular season.
 
"He worked the entire season to be in that group, and it's a special group of players he's mentioned with there and deservedly so," DeBoer said. "He's skilled and a good kid, but I think the biggest thing is he doesn't have an ego. He got sent back at first, coming out of training camp, and I've seen that effect that could have on a player -- some feel sorry for themselves. But because he has no ego, he got another chance very quickly and made the most of it."
 
After being selected by the Devils at the draft, Henrique spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires and one more with the American Hockey League's Albany Devils.
 
Despite the fact he doesn't have a goal through four games in the playoffs and has gone 11 straight games without a score, he remains positive.
 
"I think you got to chip in any way you can," Henrique said. "It's the playoffs, and we've had offensive contributions from the fourth-line guys and the top guys are producing offensively, so that's another area where I need to try to do more.
 
"At the same time, we have to take care of other aspects of the game like playing solid defensively. I thought, as a [third] line, we had our best game in Game 4. We skated well, were on the puck. If you're not scoring, you need to be doing other things to contribute to the win."
 
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 9:30 AM

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

Garrison absence proves pivotal for Panthers

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Florida Panthers were minus a key cog on defense against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday when Jason Garrison was listed as a late scratch for Game 4 at Prudential Center.
 
According to Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, Garrison, who took part in the team's morning skate Thursday, had two lower-body issues and is listed as day-to-day. Garrison had missed five games during the regular-season (Feb. 12-23) with a lower-body injury.
 
"We not only missed Jason on the power-play … we missed him, period," Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said. "Not just on the power-play, but five-on-five and on the penalty kill, as well. He's a big part of our team."
 
The Panthers entered Game 4 with a power play clicking at 60-percent efficiency with Garrison in the lineup, connecting for six power-play goals on 10 chances in the first three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. With the 6-foot-2, 218-pound defenseman sidelined Thursday, however, the Panthers went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
 
Garrison, who set a franchise record for defensemen with 16 goals in the regular season, was replaced in the lineup by Keaton Ellerby, who played his first game since March 15.
 
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Ellerby was forced to leave the game midway through the second period after New Jersey center Stephen Gionta checked him into the Devils bench where the open door meets the stanchion. It appeared as though Ellerby injured his left leg on the play.
 
Ellerby's status will be updated later Friday in Florida. The Panthers will host the Devils on Saturday in Game 5 at BankAtlantic Center (6:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN). The best-of-seven series is tied, 2-2.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 7:15 PM

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

Garrison late scratch for Panthers

NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison will be sidelined for Game 4 of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Garrison was a late scratch with what the team called a lower-body injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Keaton Ellerby, who will be making his playoff debut this season.

Garrison has been a lynchpin in the Panthers' lineup this season and, in particular, the playoffs. He has one goal and two points in three games against the Devils. Garrison scored his first playoff goal and totaled 20:15 of ice time in Florida's 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 1:30 PM

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

Larsson still sits as Devils stick with Volchenkov

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer did admit prior to the playoffs that rookie defenseman Adam Larsson could at some point receive an opportunity to crack the lineup.
 
It just hasn't happened in the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers. DeBoer told the media that his lineup will remain status quo for Thursday's Game 4 at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, TSN2, RDSI).
 
There was speculation among the media contingent following Game 3 that perhaps DeBoer would replace struggling defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the lineup. Volchenkov has a minus-2 rating in this series and has been on the ice for nine of Florida's 10 goals through three games.
 
DeBoer didn't seem close to entertaining any thoughts, however, of replacing his veteran defender in the lineup.
 
"You look at [Volchenkov's] situation, he's had some bad luck and bad timing," DeBoer said. "He's been on the ice for nine of their 10 goals. He's had a bad run and I feel for him. It's Murphy's Law … whatever can go wrong is going wrong for him right now, and he's got to battle through that.
 
"He's a guy who has risen in the past in playoffs in Ottawa, and he's battle-tested this time of year. We need him in the lineup."
 
Meanwhile, Larsson has been a regular at practices for New Jersey during the playoffs, but, dating back to the regular season, has been a healthy scratch in eight of the last nine games. In 65 games this season, Larsson has two goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He notched one assist and a plus-1 rating in three regular-season appearances against the Panthers in 2011-12.
 
Larsson missed 10 games from Feb. 4-24 with a bruised lower back after taking a hit from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in a Feb. 2 game at Prudential Center. The talented Swede would produce just two assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before DeBoer opted to have him sit, watch and learn.
 
"The Larsson question isn't really a factor ... he's ready to play, and we know what he can do," DeBoer said. "He's a good player and he can help us, no doubt."
 
He did play in the team's 4-2 regular-season finale against the Ottawa Senators on April 7, earning 12:39 of ice time on 17 shifts.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 12:56 PM

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

Clemmensen set for first career playoff start

NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen is set to earn the first playoff start of his career on Thursday when he faces his former team, the New Jersey Devils, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Prudential Center.
 
While Panthers coach Kevin Dineen wouldn't commit to either Clemmensen or Jose Theodore following his team's morning skate at Prudential Center, Clemmensen did skate off the ice first. The first goalie off the ice at a game-day skate is usually the starter.
 
Getting the playoff nod in the state where it all began and against one of the greatest goalies in League history will certainly be a humbling experience for Clemmensen.
 
"I think there's always a little bit of nerves regardless of the situation," Clemmensen told reporters after practice. "I believe the crowd will be rocking tonight and you can always feel the atmosphere here, so if I'm the starter, I'll be ready for that as well.
 
"It's a building that I like playing in," he continued. "I like these fans. It's always a lot of fun. I don't care how loud they boo me … I love them."
 
Clemmensen stopped 19 shots in a spectacular relief stint as his team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to earn a 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday to grab a 2-1 series lead.

Florida coach Kevin Dineen, who wouldn't tip his hand as to which goalie would start, did praise Clemmensen for the quality work he provided the team down the stretch.
 
"For two months now, Clem has been an excellent goaltender, maybe one of the top guys in the League," Dineen said. "What he does have is a tremendous amount of respect from the coaching staff, from his teammates and I think from people that know him. You can tell just from the response from the people here in Jersey that he's a hard guy to dislike, and I think as a teammate that would fit his character."
 
In addition to subbing for Jose Theodore (three goals allowed on six shots) just 6:16 into the first period on Tuesday, Clemmensen's only other playoff appearance was in relief of Martin Brodeur in Game 1 of a 6-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals in Raleigh. He would play the final 6:53 of that game, turning aside all three shots he faced.
 
Not only is Clemmensen 5-0-0 against the Devils in his career, including Tuesday's win, but he has yet to allow a playoff goal in two relief stints totaling 60:37 of playing time.
 
Despite his lack of playoff experience in 10 NHL seasons, Dineen wasn't at all concerned.
 
"I have no doubt that he would play well," Dineen said. "Here's a guy who's been around a long time and has played with Marty Brodeur and Tomas Vokoun, and now Jose Theodore. A guy like [Panthers goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom] could learn a heck of a lot from a guy like Scott Clemmensen. It's nice having guys not only game ready, but extremely mature professional players. It's been a pleasure dealing with all the goalies this year."
 
Some have said he has an advantage over the Devils, a team he spent five seasons with from 2001-02 through 2006-07 as a backup to Brodeur.
 
Does he think so?
 
"Maybe. I do probably know a little bit more of their tendencies having played with them, but I don't think that's a huge difference-maker," Clemmensen said. "This time of year, everyone is fighting so hard that it just comes down to winning. I think my unbeaten record against the Devils is mostly coincidence.
 
"I don't think I prepare any differently playing against these guys, want to win any more or try any harder than I do against other teams. It's so hard to win in this League, I don't care who you're playing. You go over everything at pre-scout meetings anyway … it's not something I know and am keeping to myself."
 
Devils forward Zach Parise feels Clemmensen is an even better goalie now than when he played for New Jersey.
 
"I think technically, he is," Parise said. "He played great when he was with us, but I think he's technically a better goalie now. He plays well against us, too. We'll have to make life a little harder for him."
 
Brodeur also praised Clemmensen.
 
"He's a great guy, worked really hard and is a good goalie," Brodeur said. "When I got hurt [during the 2008-09 season], he came in and, even though he didn't start the season with us, got himself back here and did really well for us. He earned a nice contract in Florida and now he's taking advantage of that."
 
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
 
Scott Clemmensen
Jose Theodore
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 12:37 PM

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

Brodeur has no doubts he'll be better in Game 4

NEWARK, N.J. -- When New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur officially is announced as the starter Thursday in Game 4 of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN), it will mark his 174th consecutive postseason start.
 
"I expect to play every game, all the time, especially in the playoffs," Brodeur said. "It might not happen the rest of my career, but right now until I don't play, I expect every day that I'm going to play. That's one thing with having your own confidence."
 
Following his team's practice at Prudential Center on Thursday morning, Brodeur was asked if the Devils are facing a bit of adversity trailing the series 2-1 entering Game 4.
 
"It is definitely adversity," he said. "After six minutes and taking that lead on Tuesday, we should have had a better result and now we face adversity and we'll have to deal with it. We have to erase what we did last game and get back at it.
 
"As a team, we have to pay attention to details and special teams and individual players have to be better. Our overall team effort needs to be at a higher standard."
 
For the record, there was little to no speculation within the Devils' locker room that Brodeur wouldn't get the nod for Game 4, despite being pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in 22:18.
 
"It wasn't really a decision," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "This is a guy, he carried us the entire second half of the season here. He's been fantastic and it really wasn't a lot of thought put into that. I knew the moment I pulled him [in Game 3 Tuesday] that we would be going back in there [Thursday]."
 
When DeBoer pulled Brodeur just 2:18 into the second period, it marked the first time he had been yanked from a playoff game since allowing six goals on 35 shots in 53:07 in a 6-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
 
"For me, I know what I can do and what I can bring and I'll try my hardest all the time," Brodeur said. "I've played a long time in this League not to have doubts in my mind when I'm coming down to the end here."
 
DeBoer is confident Brodeur, who turns 40 May 6, will rebound to help the Devils even this best-of-seven series.
 
"Marty's been through everything," DeBoer said. "I think if you ask anyone how's Marty Brodeur going to respond to adversity, I think we all know the answer to that."
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 11:59 AM

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

Devils see Game 4 as a must-win situation

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils realize the importance of squaring their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers on Thursday in Game 4 at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
 
Veteran goalie Martin Brodeur feels the team has put itself in a must-win situation after losing 4-3 in Game 3.
 
"You don't want to bank on making the historical comeback when you go down 3-1 in a series," Brodeur said. "It's tough to come back from that, there's no doubt. You have to address these games as do or die and just go out and put in a good effort."
 
Does Brodeur feel getting the early lead is important? After all, the team that has taken a 3-0 lead in the previous three games has struggled to hold that advantage.
 
Florida, however, was the first to go down by three and rally for a victory, which they did in Game 3 on Tuesday. In Game 1, New Jersey opened a 3-0 lead and hung on for a 3-2 win. In Game 2, the Panthers surged to a 3-0 advantage before winning 4-2 triumph.
 
"I don't know about [getting that big lead]," Brodeur said. "It depends on how big. The game will be played the way it's played, and we'll react to it."

Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said he believes the team has dealt with adverse situations this season and this is no exception.
 
"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. [Thursday] is a huge game because we don't want to go down and then go on the road."
 
The only Devils not on the ice for Thursday's optional skate were Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky. Devils coach Peter DeBoer said there would be no lineup changes, meaning rookie defenseman Adam Larsson would be a healthy scratch for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
 
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 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."
 
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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 / 4:41 PM

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

Projected lineup for Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Here is the projected lineup the Panthers will use when the puck drops for Game 3 Tuesday (7 p.m. ET NHLN-US, TSN) against the Devils at Prudential Center:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
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 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 Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 6:01 PM

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

Panthers seeking quicker start

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.”
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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 5:45 PM

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

Brodeur's passing ability causing Panthers problems

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers said they were aware of Martin Brodeur’s passing prowess before the start of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey.

They’re even more cognizant after what happened in Game 1.

“You’ve got to be aware every time,” Panthers wing Kris Versteeg said. “Obviously we talked about it with his quick ups. He’s pretty dangerous obviously. Probably the best goaltender in the League at handling the puck, so we’ve got to be aware of him again tonight. He made us pay last game and obviously it was a big goal.”

Brodeur made 24 saves Friday to record his 100th career playoff victory, but it was his tremendous passing ability that was responsible for perhaps the biggest play in New Jersey’s 3-2 victory.

The Panthers were seconds away from killing off a four-minute Devils power play to keep their deficit at 1-0 when they iced the puck and went for a line change.

After stopping the puck in front of his net, Brodeur didn’t hesitate and fired a perfect pass to teammate David Clarkson at the Florida blue line near the boards. The Panthers never were able to set up defensively and Clarkson flipped the puck inside to Dainius Zubrus, who skated in alone on Jose Theodore and beat him with a wrist shot.

Ryan Carter would score 45 seconds later for a 3-0 lead that would hold up.

“If nobody is in my face, I’m able to make some decent passes,” Brodeur said. “It just worked out that Jose did such a great job killing that penalty almost by himself making seven or eight saves on that power play. When they dumped the puck, they just wanted to change, they didn’t really pay attention. I just caught them off guard. I’m sure it’s going to be harder to do now. I’m sure they’ll be aware of it.”

If nothing else, the Panthers learned the hard way they can never relax when Brodeur has the puck.

“You have to pay attention to their goalie,” Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “He is the best in the League at moving the puck and he can catch you sleeping, absolutely. Getting the puck in deep and getting hard to the bench is extremely key and being extremely aware of when he has the puck and where you’re placing it as you’re dumping it in.”

The Panthers have plenty of company when it comes to getting burned by Brodeur’s passing.

Friday’s assist was his ninth in the playoffs. He also has a goal, a rink-long wrister into an open net at the end of a 5-2 victory against Montreal on April 17, 1997.

Brodeur had four assists in the just-completed regular season to match his career high.

“I feel like I’ve seen it a thousand times,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “I can’t say I’m surprised about it. It’s a great play because if you’re an opposing team you can’t relax on a change and I think that’s what they did a little bit there. He’s got a great ability to pass it up and counteract and we were able to catch them. It’s a nice weapon for us to have.”

It’s inevitable that Brodeur will wind up playing the puck at other times in this series. The Panthers just don’t want to make it too easy on him.

“You have to put the puck into a place,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. “The game is easy when Marty can go back there and make the kind of direct tape-to-tape passes he can. So it’s more placement, where you end up putting the puck before you actually get in on the forecheck.”
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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 5:39 PM

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

Lineups remain same for Game 2

SUNRISE, Fla. — The New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers both held an optional morning skate in advance of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Sunday at the BankAtlantic Center.

Both coaches said there would be no lineup changes from Game 1, which was won by New Jersey 3-2.

That means that Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann and Ed Jovanovski, who both sat out Saturday’s practice in what coach Kevin Dineen termed a “maintenance day,” will be available.

Jose Theodore, who stopped 35 of 38 shots Friday, again will be in net for the Panthers.

Fleischmann and Jovanovski were among eight Panthers players not on the ice Sunday morning, although defenseman Brian Campbell skated on his own beforehand.

For the Devils, defenseman Bryce Salvador was the only player who didn’t take part in the optional skate.

Former Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire, who lives in South Florida, watched the workout from the stands alongside general manager Lou Lamoriello.

New Jersey held an optional practice Saturday, with nine players participating.

“I’ve taken the approach with our group, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too much rest,” coach Pete DeBoer said in explaining the optional workouts. “Our history over the last half of the season was when we’re rested, we play well. When fatigue gets set in a little bit for us, we don’t. We’re going to control that the best we can. We also have a lot of veterans in that room that know their bodies a lot better than I do.

“The trust is they know their body better than I do and I trust that they’ll be ready to go tonight.”

Here are the projected lineups for Game 2:

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

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

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
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 Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:21 PM

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

Little-used Carter haunts former team

SUNRISE, Fla. — Only one player had less ice time than Ryan Carter in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between New Jersey and Florida.

But Carter skated long enough for some serious payback.

The little-used 28-year-old center ended up with the game-winning goal against his former team when he scored with 5:04 left in the first period to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

Carter started the season with Florida and played seven games before he was waived with the idea of reassigning him to San Antonio of the AHL. Needing depth at center, the Devils claimed him off waivers.

Little did the Panthers know he would come back to haunt them in their first playoff game since 2000.

Carter, who played 6:56 in his third game at the BankAtlantic Center since joining the Devils, focused more on the significance of his goal than the opponent.

“Yeah, I am past that,” said Carter, who topped only teammate Stephen Gionta in ice time Friday. “The first couple of games back here maybe there were some extra feelings like that. Now, Jersey is my team and I just want to find a way to help them win. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s not about sticking it to somebody else, it’s about helping our team.”

Carter, who went pointless for Florida before recording four goals and four assists in 65 games with New Jersey, wasn’t among the forwards the Panthers figured they had to stop coming into the series.

But less than a minute after Dainius Zubrus scored to make it 2-0 for New Jersey, Carter stole the puck from Sean Bergenheim in the neutral zone and then took advantage of a flat-footed Ed Jovanovski at the  blue line.

Carter chipped the puck off the boards, skated around Jovanovski to retrieve it and skated in alone on the right side. He beat Jose Theodore with a quick wrist shot to the far side.

“It was a controlled forecheck,” Carter said. “They had two guys swinging to that left wall, so that made it easy to check both of them. I think they had a misread on who was going where, so that exposed the puck a little bit. I chipped it by one guy and found myself in a two-on-one and just shot it.”

The goal came on a shift that lasted exactly 13 seconds for Carter.

In fact, through the first two periods, Carter got only 3:37 of ice time. He got almost twice that much in the third period as coach Peter DeBoer turned to his fourth line — Carter, Gionta and Steve Bernier, another former Panther — to help protect the 3-2 lead.

“The fourth line was big for us,” DeBoer said. “The game-winning goal and five or six critical shifts in the third period when our guys were starting to get fatigued. We talked between the second and third about the importance of those guys giving us some quality shifts and I thought they were great.”

Carter’s goal was his third in 21 career playoff games. The other two came with Anaheim in 2009.

“To get a chance to get a goal and chip in, it’s definitely huge,” Carter said. “Tonight it turned out to be the difference-maker. Anytime you can contribute that’s big. That’s your job.”
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 12:31 PM

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

Theodore starts strong for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen’s goalie decision figures to be a lot easier for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.

Dineen never revealed his Game 1 starting goalie to the media until lineup sheets were distributed shortly before game time, but Jose Theodore figures to have earned another start after a stellar performance Friday.

The Panthers lost 3-2, but Theodore was the reason the score wasn’t more lopsided, as he stopped 35 of 38 shots.

Theodore was particularly impressive in the first period despite allowing three goals. New Jersey peppered him with 26 shots, a franchise playoff record and the highest first-period total in the NHL playoffs since 1997 when Philadelphia recorded 28 shots against Pittsburgh.

“I thought he was really good in the first period,” Dineen said after the game. “You give up three goals in the first period and you’re like, boy, that’s something you’re always questioning about a goalie, but if he doesn’t play the way he did, we’re in trouble. [It was] a solid night for our goaltender.”

Theodore, who got the nod for Game 1 over backup Scott Clemmensen, entered the playoffs having given up nine goals in his previous two starts.

He also had given up a soft goal in each of those games, a 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg and a 4-2 loss at Washington.

But none of the three goals Friday could be pinned on him.

“When you have that many shots in the first period and you make a couple of saves right away, I felt pretty good, to be honest,” Theodore said. “During the playoffs, it’s all about winning and losing. We lost the game, so we’ve just got to bounce back. It’s the best I felt [Friday night], let’s say, the last week or so.”

Before Patrik Elias opened the scoring at 6:31, Theodore had stopped him on a breakaway after the Panthers were caught in a bad line change.

Theodore also stopped Zach Parise on a breakaway midway through the third period to keep the Panthers within a goal after they had scored twice in the second period to pull to within 3-2.

“We created a lot of offense, if it wasn’t for Jose, it could have been a lot different,” said Martin Brodeur, who recorded his 100th playoff victory to join Patrick Roy as the only goalies to reach triple digits. “He played unbelievable. He made some big saves and, even in the third stopping Zach on the breakaway, kept them in the game.”

Theodore’s performance was a far cry from his last playoff outing.

That came in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the top-seeded Washington Capitals and eighth-seeded Montreal. After the Canadiens had taken Game 1, 3-2 in overtime, Theodore was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau after allowing two goals on the first two shots.

Theodore didn’t play again as Montreal upset the Capitals in seven games.

The game Friday marked Theodore’s 52nd career playoff appearance, and it will go down as one of his best.

Devils forward Dainius Zubrus finished with a goal and an assist, but was impressed with the performance of his former Montreal teammate.

“He weathered the storm,” Zubrus said, “and he kept them in the game.”
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Devils, Panthers eager to finally get series started

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Martin Brodeur will begin his 17th playoff run Friday, but he doesn’t remember ever having to wait this long to get going.

Six days after wrapping up the regular season, the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers finally get to start their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at the BankAtlantic Center.

It's the last series to get going, as three series started Wednesday and four more began Thursday.

"It's extremely exciting, to say the least," Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson said after his team's morning skate. "The long wait that we had made it even better for us to jump on the saddle and get ready to go here. We're extremely excited in the room here and ready to get going."

If there's such a thing as carrying momentum into the playoffs, the Devils probably would have wanted to start the series as early as possible.

While Florida endured a season-high five-game losing streak before clinching the Southeast Division title by beating Carolina in the regular season finale, the Devils streaked into the playoffs by finishing with six consecutive victories.

It was the longest winning streak in the NHL at the end of the regular season.

"We had some guys that were carrying some injuries that it's good to get them that extra couple days off," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "But, yeah, when you're playing well and feeling good, you always want to be keep playing that next day. In the long run, it was good for us to get a little rest and heal some guys."

New Jersey went 12-4-1 in its 17 games, but coach Peter DeBoer isn't sure that will mean much once the series begins.

"I talked to Lou [Lamoriello], he's probably the greatest resource for me on playoff hockey with his success, and he's had teams that stumbled in and won and teams that lit things up the last 10 games and lost," DeBoer said. "I don't know if there's a right formula. I can tell you I would rather have won six in a row than not heading in. Hopefully that sets the table for us. But it doesn't guarantee anything."

Starting the series so late gave both teams plenty of practice time. There's also been a lot of playoff watching.

"It's definitely a fun part of the year," Panthers forward Kris Versteeg said. "It's a fun time to be a player and a fan of the game as well. ... We're fortunate enough to have made the playoffs. We've been on a long wait, but now it's here and now we're excited about it."

The last time the Panthers hosted a playoff game was April 20, 2000, and the BankAtlantic Center was known as the National Car Rental Center then.

If nothing else, the late start to the series gave the Panthers and their fans more time to savor the team's first-ever division title.

"It's been a good week," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "Watched some games and everything's been so close, three overtime games last night. It's been an enjoyable week for us to be able to reflect on our full season, but we're certainly ready to put that in the rearview mirror and get going in the playoffs."
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 1:56 PM

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

Panthers' power play has its work cut out

SUNRISE, Fla. -- A year after producing the worst power play in the NHL, the Florida Panthers finished the 2011-12 regular season tied for seventh with the man advantage by scoring at an 18.5 percent clip.

They'll be hard-pressed to duplicate that kind of success in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the best penalty-killing team in the League.

"They have skilled players who can read the plays," said veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson, who plays the right point on the Panthers' first power-play unit. "They have shot-blocking guys and a good goalie. That's a good mix. They read off each other and when they pressure, they pressure hard. We know what we're up against and we have to play good."

The Panthers were 1-for-11 (9.1 percent) on the power play in the four regular-season meetings against New Jersey. Florida wasn't the only team that struggled with the Devils' PK, as New Jersey set a modern-era record with an 89.6 success rate.

The Devils also led the NHL with 15 shorthanded goals, one of which came against the Panthers. Even though that was an empty-net goal by Ilya Kovalchuk at the end of New Jersey's 5-2 home victory on Jan. 6, the Panthers are well aware of the Devils' attacking mentality even down a man.

"We've got to be careful at the blue lines," said Stephen Weiss, who centers Florida's first power-play unit. "They've got good sticks and their forwards at the top are very quick. We've got to make sure we're coming back when the puck turns over because they'll push offensively, too."

The Panthers likely will need for their power play to contribute if they are to advance to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history and the first since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

Florida scored only 203 goals in the regular season, the second-lowest total among playoff teams ahead only of Los Angeles' 194.

So while the Panthers recognize and respect the Devils' penalty-killing prowess and ability to score shorthanded, they also know they can't hold back on the power play.

"You can't be careful on the power play," Samuelsson said. "You're going to think twice about it? Maybe. We know we're up for a challenge. At the same time, if we start off good, you never know where momentum is going to take you. In the past, we had a great PK and power play in the regular season, but when it came to the playoffs it wasn't that good. A lot of things change during the playoffs. It's always good to play good in the regular season, but it doesn't have to be that way because they usually do it."
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 1:02 PM

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

Projected Game 1 lineups

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As he indicated earlier this week, Florida coach Kevin Dineen's goalie decision for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey Friday will come down to the wire.

"You know what, all year long I've waited till the end, so we'll give it a couple more hours and give it a good gut check and go from there," Dineen said after the Panthers' morning skate at the BankAtlantic Center.

Dineen has to decide between Jose Theodore, who was the team's No. 1 goalie all season but gave up nine goals in his last two starts, or Scott Clemmensen, who was solid as the backup but tremendous in his last four starts when he went 3-0-1 with a .962 save percentage.

The starting goalie wasn't the only lineup decision Dineen said he still needed to make before the 7 p.m. opening faceoff.

Veteran forward Marco Sturm skated for a second consecutive day after missing practice on Monday and Wednesday, but Dineen wasn't ready to say whether he would take his place on the line with John Madden and Tomas Kopecky.

Krystofer Barch, who was a healthy scratch for the last four regular season games, skated with the Madden line at practice all week.

"He's a big, physical guy, but more importantly he can skate," Dineen said of Barch. "When you're playing a team as skilled as the Devils, you're going to need to be able to move your feet. That's an advantage we've had over the course of the season is we have a lot of guys that move their feet well. We like to think of ourselves as being able to put some speed at teams and Barchy would be a good addition in that way."

Sturm, acquired along with fellow veteran Mikael Samuelsson in the October trade that sent David Booth to Vancouver, battled injuries a good part of the season and appeared in only 48 games for the Panthers.

For the Devils, coach Peter DeBoer confirmed before his team's optional skate that rookie defenseman Adam Larsson would not be in the lineup Friday.

The fourth pick in the 2011 NHL draft, Larsson was a healthy scratch for five of the Devils' last six regular season games.

Larsson had 18 points in 65 games during the regular season, but his minus-7 rating was the worst among the seven New Jersey defensemen currently on the roster.

Here are the projected lines for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Devils and Panthers:

DEVILS
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

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
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 Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 8:41 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Dineen to lean on ex-Devils for advice

Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen hadn't announced as of Thursday night whether Scott Clemmensen would get the start over Jose Theodore in Game 1 of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Friday against the New Jersey Devils.

Meanwhile, as a fourth-line center, John Madden's ice time figures to pale in comparison to that of top forwards like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss.

Regardless of how much they play, however, Clemmensen and Madden have the ability to have a different kind of impact on this series as ex-Devils who might provide valuable information on some of their former teammates' tendencies.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 1:40 PM

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

Larsson expects to return to lineup soon

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson does expect to get into the lineup at some point during his team's best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers that begins Friday.
 
It just won't be Game 1 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
 
"For sure [we expect Larsson will play at some point]," Devils coach Peter DeBoer told the media following his team's practice on Thursday. "There's an opportunity for him to play. We've got seven defenders here and the way playoff hockey works, there's no doubt in my mind we're going to have to use all seven at different points."
 
Larsson was on the ice for practice Thursday, but told NHL.com he doesn't expect to suit up against the Panthers on Friday. The rookie Swede has been a healthy scratch for five of the team's last six regular-season games, as New Jersey has won six consecutive contests.
 
"The coaching staff told me that I hadn't come up to my level that I was before after my injury so it was couple of points they made defensively," Larsson told NHL.com. "I had a good talk with them and now I'm trying to prepare myself to get in there."
 
Larsson missed 10 games from Feb. 4-24 with a bruised lower back after taking a hit from Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban in a Feb. 2 game at Prudential Center.
 
He did play in the team's 4-2 regular-season finale against the Ottawa Senators on April 7, earning 12:39 of ice time on 17 shifts.
 
"I do believe I'll play in this series," Larsson said. "You know, after one game, we could be down one or two defensemen because of injury, so I need to stay focused and in good shape and wait for my chance."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Panthers lines in practice

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Here are the lines the Florida Panthers used in practice Thursday:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Krys Barch - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen occupied the nets.

The Panthers had an extra line of forwards, with Jerred Smithson centering Marco Sturm and Mike Santorelli.

Keaton Ellerby skated as the extra defenseman.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Clarkson ready to go, just wants to play his game

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils forward David Clarkson is ready for the NHL's second season.
 
Following the team's practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion at Prudential Center on Thursday, Clarkson declared himself ready to go after being sidelined for two of the team's last three regular-season games with a lower-body injury.
 
The Devils will open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers on Friday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
 
"I'm going to go Game 1," Clarkson said. "Everything is good and I'm ready."
 
Only Ilya Kovalchuk (37) and Zach Parise (31) have scored more goals than Clarkson for the Devils this season. The rugged 6-foot-1, 200-pound wing had 30 goals and accrued 138 penalty minutes in 2011-12 while averaging 16:21 of ice time through 80 games. He also ranked second on the team in hits (169), third in shots (228) and sixth in takeaways (32).
 
Does Clarkson feel the need to produce offensively now that he's hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career? After all, he has just two playoff goals in 20 career postseason games.
 
"You always want to be an impact player, but I think if I just stick to what I'm doing, it's going to happen," Clarkson said. "I'm not going to get ahead of myself to think I need to do this or that. I'm just going to go out there and play that hard-nosed hockey.
 
"If you watched Wednesday night's [playoff] games, you saw there was a lot of hitting and lot of little plays made; getting into those areas around the net," he continued. "That's what has made me successful this season so far and I'm going to do that throughout the playoffs."
 
Clarkson will likely open the series on a line with left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky and rookie center Adam Henrique.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:57 PM

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

Panthers' Sturm back on the ice

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Forward Marco Sturm returned to practice Thursday after missing the Florida Panthers' first two workouts of the week.

Coach Kevin Dineen said Sturm is questionable for Friday's series opener against New Jersey (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) because of lower-body soreness.

Sturm skated Thursday on a line with Mike Santorelli and Jerred Smithson, who were regular scratches for the Panthers in the last few games of the regular season.

Krys Barch again skated in Sturm's usual spot, alongside John Madden and Tomas Kopecky.

Defenseman Jason Garrison left practice early Thursday after being hit in the face by a deflected puck. Garrison, who was cut, did not return.

Dineen said Garrison would get some stitches on his nose, but would be fine.

Veteran forward Matt Bradley, who has been out with a concussion since Feb. 19, skated on his own for a third consecutive day.

"It is very encouraging," Dineen said. "Big, strong right winger is a real nice quality for us as a team to have without [injured] Jack Skille for the rest of the season. Again, that's a medical situation that needs to play out. We certainly have not had any kind of indication that there's any close return."

Asked whether he could rule out Bradley playing at any point during the New Jersey series, Dineen replied: "I don't know the answer to that, but I'm not counting on it."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:56 PM

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

Devils get in intense practice ahead of trip to Florida

NEWARK, N.J. -- It has now been five days since the New Jersey Devils last played a game -- a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
 
Needless to say, the players are chomping at the bit. The Devils will open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers on Friday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
 
"We thought we were going to play Wednesday or Thursday [when the schedule initially came out], but that's how 21st century TV dictates everything," Ilya Kovalchuk said. "It's OK, though. We'll take the extra day because we played a lot of hockey in March."
 
The Devils went 10-5-2 in the month of March, their busiest month of the season.
 
The players practiced for approximately 60 minutes on Thursday at AmeriHealth Pavilion at Prudential Center before heading back to the locker room. The team departs for Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday afternoon.
 
During Thursday's session, which was run by a boisterous head coach Peter DeBoer, Stephen Gionta was centering the fourth line between Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. According to Parise, Thursday's practice was as intense a session as DeBoer has managed this week.
 
"I would say that was the most [intense]," Parise told NHL.com. "He's been talking for a while now about really taking care of details and not letting anyone off the hook. I think [Thursday] was a good example of that, and I thought our intensity out there was good."
 
DeBoer not only was directing his team, but passing pucks to players in order to spring drills throughout the session.
 
"Let's see someone get to the net here!" the coach barked at one point.
 
"I think we pushed for game speed out there and that's what we're looking for … the guys responded well," DeBoer told the media after practice. "It's been a long week waiting around and I don't know if there's an exact formula for making sure you're ready to go at top speed when the puck drops, but I think we managed it the best we could and the guys look ready."
 
Defenseman Adam Larsson was the ice and will travel with the team to Florida, but will not play in Game 1. Larsson was a healthy scratch for five straight games before earning 12:39 of ice time on 17 shifts in New Jersey's victory over Ottawa in the season finale on April 7.
 
The line combinations during Thursday's practice included:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Extras: Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold

Extra: Adam Larsson
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:20 PM

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

Predictions favoring Devils don't bother Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers may have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but that doesn't change the fact they're considered underdogs in their series against the New Jersey Devils.

It wouldn't even be a stretch to call them heavy underdogs.

When NHL.com unveiled its first-round predictions of 16 writers, international staff members and NHL Network analysts, all but one went with New Jersey over Florida.

Only one of the other seven first-round series matched that kind of consensus, with the New York Rangers getting all 16 votes in their matchup against the Ottawa Senators.

"We can't worry about all the predictions," coach Kevin Dineen said. "You can sit there and watch the NHL Network or MSG, whatever it is, there’s lots of people out there that are looking to fill air time. There's areas we really can't control."

The NHL changed its alignment to three divisions in each conference in 1998-99 and started giving the division winners the top three seeds.

Before this year, only four No. 3 seeds finished with fewer points than the sixth seed. It's happening in both conferences this year, with third-seeded Phoenix facing No. 6 seed Chicago in the Western Conference.

It's impossible to draw conclusions from past results because the previous four series matching a No. 6 seed with more regular season points than the No. 3 seed were split.

• No. 6 Boston (91 points) beat No. 3 seed Carolina (86) in six games in 1999.

• No. 3 seed Carolina (91) beat No. 6 seed New Jersey (95) in six games in 2002.

• No. 3 seed Vancouver (105) beat No. 6 seed Dallas (107) in seven games in 2007.

• No. 6 seed Philadelphia (95) beat No. 3 seed Washington (94) in seven games in 2008.

"I really don't believe that there's any underdog or favorite," Panthers goalie Jose Theodore said. "Yes, there might be upsets sometimes, but you look at the standings, how tight it was, anybody could win games. That's what's fun. Even if you're the eighth seed, you still have a chance to win and I was in a lot of playoffs where we  were seventh or eighth and we were able to win. That's what's fun. That's what fans want to see, a lot of good teams, and it's really hard to predict."

In finishing with 102 points and becoming the first team to finish fourth in its division with at least 100, New Jersey ended up with eight more points than the Panthers.

That's the biggest differential yet in favor of a sixth seed against a No. 3 seed.

And it's a large reason for the overwhelming sentiment favoring the Devils.

Not that Panthers players are really concerning themselves with prognosticators.

"Well, they predicted us to not even make the playoffs this year," center Shawn Matthias. "It's nice being underdogs. I'm not going to give any bulletin-board stuff. Well, we didn't listen to that all year, why would we start now?"
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Panthers' Sturm questionable for Game 1

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers could be without veteran forward Marco Sturm when they begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).

For the second time in two practices this week, Sturm was missing when the Panthers took the ice at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Wednesday.

Sturm also sat out the third period of Saturday's 4-1 division-clinching victory against Carolina in the regular season finale, and coach Kevin Dineen said Sturm is dealing with lower-body soreness.

"He'll be questionable," Dineen said. "He's a little bit sore from [last] weekend, so we're not sure if he'll be all right this weekend."

While Sturm missed his second consecutive practice, rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was back on the ice after being kept out Monday for what Dineen described as a "maintenance day."

Sturm, who had three goals and two assists in 42 games for Florida this season after being acquired from Vancouver in the David Booth trade in October, played the last few games on a line with John Madden and Tomas Kopecky.

His place on that line at Wednesday's practice was taken by Krys Barch.

Dineen also was asked Wednesday about his goalie situation and he said "probably right around game time" is when he would decide whether to go with Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen against the Devils.

"I have complete trust and confidence in our guys," Dineen said. "I've watched their body of work throughout the year and I have a very comfortable feeling that whatever decision we go, if I start Scott Clemmensen, I've made the right call; if I decide to go with Jose Theodore, I think I've made the right call. That's a good place for a coach to be."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 3:10 PM

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

Practice, rest on tap for Florida until series starts

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen ended up changing his practice schedule on the fly after he found out his team would be among the last two to play its first playoff game.

The Panthers will open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils on Friday at the BankAtlantic Center. That announcement came after Dineen said he was told the Panthers would begin play Thursday and later was told that it would be Wednesday.

Dineen held a practice Monday that lasted about 90 minutes and decided to give his team Tuesday off before getting back on the ice the next day.

"For us, the rest is really important right now," Dineen said. "I'm going to give them a day off tomorrow, which is not an easy thing to do in the playoffs. But I feel that day off, they're going to come in nice and fresh on Wednesday, we'll get a good skate Wednesday, Thursday and I think that'll be beneficial in the long run.

"Unfortunately, in the playoffs things are going to happen pretty fast and furious. But we feel it's a worthy day off. It has been a very tough month of March and April. We worked hard and there's been a lot of scratching and clawing and the mental break, as much as the physical break, will make a difference."

As much as they want to get started in the playoffs, Panthers players didn't seem to mind the delay.

"When you finish preseason games and you have a week of practices, that's where you're able to get sharp," goalie Jose Theodore said. "We played so many games lately, we hardly practiced. It's kind of hard to stay sharp when you don't practice. Having a full week of practice, you can work on details, you can work on technical stuff, so it's actually easier to stay sharp when you practice every day like we're going to have this week."

Veteran forward Marco Sturm and rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson didn't take part in Monday’s practice. Dineen called their absence a "maintenance day."

Sturm didn't play in the third period of Saturday's 4-1 division-clinching victory against Carolina after getting 7:19 of ice time in the first 40 minutes. Gudbranson played 14:10 against the Hurricanes.

Dineen said both players would be re-evaluated Wednesday.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 2:44 PM

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

Dineen mum on which Panthers goalie starts Game 1

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen was talking about his philosophy on dealing with the media Monday when he used a hot topic with his team to make a point.

"I've got goaltending decisions to make, and I want to give it a couple of days and I'll give it a gut check," Dineen said. "I haven't talked to my belly yet."

That means Dineen still hasn't decided whether Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen will be starting in net for the Panthers when they open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

And Dineen says he won't have an answer until Friday.

"You know what, for me I've got a really exciting decision to make," Dineen said after the Panthers went through a 90-minute practice at the Saveology.com Iceplex. "I don't look at it as a burden. I look at it as something that I can't go wrong either way and it'll be something that we'll wait for a few days.

"I don't think I've changed my stance on that all year. I certainly haven't tried to play coy, but certainly our goalies have been excellent for the most part and that makes for a quality choice when we do get going."

Theodore started 51 games in the regular season for the Panthers, while Clemmensen had 25 starts.

But it's Clemmensen who has been the better goaltender of late, going 3-0-1 with a .962 save percentage in his last four starts.

It was Clemmensen who was in net Saturday when the Panthers clinched their first-ever division title with a 4-1 victory against Carolina.

Theodore, meanwhile, allowed a combined nine goals in his last two starts and was pulled for 91 seconds after giving up a third goal in a 4-2 loss at Washington Thursday.

The former Hart Trophy winner, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent last July, said he would take the same approach in terms of preparation as he did during the regular season.

"It's nothing really new," Theodore said. "Usually, we know the day before or so. Pretty much it was like that all season and we had success like that. There's nothing new or nothing to adapt to for me or Clem. It's pretty much the same we've been doing all season and it worked for us."

Theodore finished with better overall numbers than Clemmensen during the regular season. He had a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, compared to Clemmensen's 2.57 GAA and .913 save percentage.

Veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, for one, said Theodore was the Panthers' MVP during the regular season.

Should he get the start, Theodore can start erasing some bitter playoff memories from his two seasons with the Washington Capitals. Theodore was replaced by Semyon Varlamov both years as the Capitals failed to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

After going 30-7-7 in 2009-10, Theodore was pulled after giving up two goals on the first two shots he faced in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Montreal in 2010 and didn't play again while the Capitals lost the series in seven games.

"What happened in Washington, I'll say it again, it's out of your control," Theodore said. "The first year I played one game, then I don't play. It's really not something that I look [at] like I didn't achieve or I didn't get the job done, I just didn't have the chance to play. So I really don't think about Washington too much at this point. It's a totally different group, different situation. I'm just going to prepare myself to play and take it from there."

For Clemmensen, getting the start against New Jersey would represent an opportunity to face his former team.

Clemmensen, who spent parts of five seasons with the Devils and recorded a 25-13-1 record in 2008-09 subbing for an injured Martin Brodeur, has had great success against New Jersey, with a 3-0-1 record in five starts.

That includes a 3-1 victory at New Jersey on Feb. 11. That could be one factor that might influence Dineen.

"I feel good about my game," Clemmensen said after the division-clinching victory against Carolina. "Regardless if I start that game on [Friday] or not, I'm going to be ready to play, whether it's that game or Game 2 or whatever the case is. I'm going to be ready to play every minute, every game. I don't know what the situation is going to be or who's going to start, but I'm going to be ready, that's it."
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Posted On Sunday, 04.08.2012 / 1:00 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers, Devils set to play Game 1 Friday

After waiting more than a decade to return to the postseason, two more days will seem minimal for the Florida Panthers. In the last series to get underway in the first round of the 2011-12 Stanley Cup playoffs, Florida will end the longest postseason drought in the League when it faces the Devils Friday night at BankAtlantic Center.

The Devils and Panthers will drop the puck at 7 ET. Game 1 will be broadcast nationally on NHL Network in the U.S. and TSN in Canada.
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