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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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