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?"