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Panthers believe they have found close-out mentality

Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:24 PM

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

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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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