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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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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."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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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.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 11:20 AM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bergeron not on ice as Bruins practice

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron did not practice Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena, where the team prepared for Wednesday's Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

Asked if he had any concerns Bergeron would not play in Game 7, Bruins coach Claude Julien replied, "None at all."

Bergeron was banged up in Game 5 last Saturday. He played Sunday in Game 6, but was limited to just one third-period faceoff after he finished second in the NHL in faceoff percentage during the regular season.

The Bruins did not practice Monday and Bergeron did not reveal what was ailing him during a media scrum to discuss his selection as a finalist for the Selke Trophy. In six games of this series, Bergeron has totaled two assists and an even plus/minus rating. In Game 6, he recorded an assist in 19:41 of ice time.

In six career Game 7s, Bergeron has recorded two goals and three points.

Bergeron was the only Bruins regular missing from practice.

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:28 AM

By Brian Compton -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Rangers prepare for ninth Game 7

"The World's Most Famous Arena" will be hosting its fourth Game 7 on Thursday night.

Thanks to the work of youngsters such as Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider -- along with world-class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist -- the Blueshirts managed to stave off elimination Monday night and force a seventh game with a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

The victory means the Rangers will be participating in their ninth Game 7 in franchise history, and the fourth to be played at Madison Square Garden. It will also be the first Game 7 on Broadway since the Rangers won their only Stanley Cup championship in the last six decades, when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in a dramatic seventh game in 1994.
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 11:48 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Lundqvist irate about Spezza's goal

OTTAWA -- It didn't affect the outcome of the game, but it certainly affected the mood of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist afterward.

With the Rangers leading Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Ottawa Senators 3-1 in the final minutes, Jason Spezza ripped a shot on net that was stopped by Lundqvist. During the ensuing scramble around the net, the puck was jarred loose and swept into the net to cut the lead to 3-2.
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 9:59 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYR @ OTT 19:21 of the third period



At 19:21 of the third period in the Rangers/Senators game, video review was used to determine if Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil kicked the puck into the New York net.  Video review was inconclusive in determining if Chris Neil's left skate propelled the puck into the net. Call on the ice stands, good goal Ottawa.
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Predators looking like Cup contenders

We're getting close to the end of the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there is still plenty to be decided, and there are still plenty of storylines coming out of what has been an entertaining tournament so far. For my money, however, one of the biggest stories is the way Nashville knocked out the mighty Detroit Red Wings in just five games, and it raises a pretty real question:

Are the Predators the team to beat?

When the playoffs began two weeks ago, I think if you weren't one of the people that thought this team had a chance to win, then you didn't know much about hockey. This is a heck of a hockey team, plain and simple, and its win over Detroit shows it. The interesting thing about this matchup was that it was something of a changing of the guard in the West. The Predators will tell you that their model for this team is Detroit. They want to build their team like Detroit, build their organization like Detroit -- they even throw fish on the ice like Detroit fans throw octopi. They want a tradition just like the Red Wings have.

If you look at how they're built, the Predators have great goaltending and maybe the best goaltender playing in the playoffs right now. Brian Elliot has been good for St. Louis, but he hasn't faced the shots that Pekka Rinne has, and Jonathan Quick has been good for Los Angeles, but other than those two, I can't think of a goalie who has played as well as Rinne.

Then you look at Nashville's defense, which has two studs on the top pair with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but it's also got this kid Kevin Klein, who had two goals in the series and played great defense. And this is all without Hal Gill, who hasn't been in the lineup. If you look at their forwards, they have four lines that can all play, their special teams are very good and they have a very good defensive system to go along with a great goaltender. This team is for real.

I think the last piece to the puzzle was getting Alexander Radulov, because they didn't have that one pure goal scorer. They had a lot of guys who can score like Mike Fisher or Martin Erat, but the one pure goal scorer that only needs one chance -- Radulov is that goal scorer now, and we saw that in that last game against Detroit.

I picked Nashville to beat Detroit, so I thought they were ready to come out of their shell and go to the prom, but I didn't think it would be five games -- and I didn't think the Predators would beat the Red Wings in Game 5 giving up just 22 shots. When you can do that to a team like Detroit, with the talent level and history Detroit has, it sends messages to the rest of the League.

Beating Detroit in five games was impressive, but how they did it, with tight checking, great defense, controlling Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for the most part, making Detroit's defense look average at times -- it all adds up to a pretty dominant win. Any series that ends in five games is a dominant win, but things like only giving up 22 shots in the last game, that's a message sender. That makes teams look at the tape and think, "Wow, how are we going to get through the neutral zone and get our chances?"

They're just solid from top to bottom.

Of course, we're only through one round right now. If Nashville is going to win the Cup they've got three more rounds to get through, but I like the way the draw shapes up for them. With St. Louis locked into facing Los Angeles in the second round, the Preds are going to face whoever wins between the Coyotes or the Blackhawks.

If you watch the way Phoenix and Chicago play, both have some question marks. Phoenix is up in the series, but they're giving up a bunch of shots and they were basically outshot 2-to-1 for a while in Game 5 Saturday night. It's not a case of Phoenix dominating Chicago. Mike Smith has been unbelievable and Corey Crawford can't stop the puck in overtime. That's the only reason this series has gone this far. Phoenix is a team that stresses defense and goaltending, very much like Nashville. Chicago will give the Predators a lot of offensive weapons to deal with, but if Marian Hossa's still out, that's a big weapon gone.

The Preds have two different matchups waiting for them, each with its own share of problems, but I think with the Predators' system, goaltending and depth, they match up well against both of them.

If Nashville gets through the second round it might very well face its division rival St. Louis. To me these are the two best teams playing in the West right now, and that would be a very difficult series for each -- and a very difficult one in which to see goals. Both of them look good, but Nashville's first-round win against Detroit has shown me something. When the playoffs began, I had Chicago coming out of the West, but with the way the field is shaping up and the way the Predators are playing, seeing them facing off in the Stanley Cup Final wouldn't surprise me one bit.
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