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."