NEWARK, N.J. --
An effective forecheck and undeniable compete level ultimately proved to be the difference for the New Jersey Devils
in their opening-round triumph against the Florida Panthers
in seven hard-fought games.
So what will be the game plan against the bigger Philadelphia Flyers
in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series slated to begin at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC)?
For starters, how about a few line adjustments.
The Devils returned to practice on Saturday and coach Pete DeBoer conducted a one hour-plus workout in preparation for the Flyers.
DeBoer opened some eyes when he had top-line center Travis Zajac
between Alexei Ponikarovsky
and Ilya Kovalchuk
, and second-line center Patrik Elias
between Zach Parise
and Dainius Zubrus
-- Ponikarovsky and Parise were basically flipped. Petr Sykora
, who was a staple on the Elias line most of the season, was placed on a line with center Adam Henrique
and David Clarkson
"Any kind of change is refreshing and it gives players around them a different jump and different look," DeBoer said after practice. "It doesn't mean we will make a change; we've won a lot of games here over last month with the lines we've had. No decisions have been made yet but any change usually gets a positive reaction, one way or another."
Henrique was the overtime hero in Game 7. The rookie connected for his second goal of the game 3:47 into the fifth period to end New Jersey's longest overtime playoff game since 2003.
Ponikarovsky was asked about the shuffling and being placed on the top line with Kovalchuk and Zajac.
"If they stay that way, it won't change my game," he said. "I know what I have to do and I'll just fit in with Trav and Kovy. We played one game against Pittsburgh back in the regular season and had some success, so that's what they're trying right now."
The only trio that remained intact from the Florida series was the fourth line of Ryan Carter
, Stephen Gionta
and Steve Bernier
. That's not too surprising considering the trio accounted for five goals and nine points in seven games.
"We scored well 5-on-5 against Florida but there's always room for improvements," DeBoer said. "I thought our fourth line generated a lot of offense, and the top two lines were a little sporadic. We're going to try different things throughout this series."
DeBoer was also asked if rookie defenseman Adam Larsson
could make his playoff debut in this series. Larsson has been a healthy scratch for 12 of the team's last 13 games, including all seven of the opening round.
"I would guess so," DeBoer said of the team's top pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. "We've only got seven defensemen here and you rarely get through series without some types of bumps and bruises, so I wouldn't doubt that he would play."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale