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Panthers vs Devils - 2012 Stanley Cup Conference Quarterfinals

Gudbranson comes of age in first NHL season

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Is there any doubt the future of the Florida Panthers in the Sunshine State is looking rather bright these days?

In a matter of six months, rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was able to turn a lot of heads with his aggressive, intimidating approach. There's something about the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Gudbranson, the No. 3 pick by Florida in 2010, that reminds one of a young Ed Jovanovski.

Slow starts, OT futility, injuries lead to Panthers' end

Alain Poupart - Correspondent

The Florida Panthers returned to the playoffs after a 12-year absence and came within a game of winning its first playoff series since 1996.

In the end, though, the Panthers fell just short and lost their fourth consecutive playoff series, dating back to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche.

Here are five biggest reasons the Panthers couldn't extend their rebound season:

1. Extra painful: The Panthers were able to capture the first division title in franchise history in 2011-12 despite poor records in the shootout (6-11) and overtime (1-7).

While they didn't have to worry about the shootout in the playoffs, overtime proved just as futile for Florida.

Bright future has Panthers already looking to 2012-13

Alain Poupart - Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It was barely 15 minutes after the Florida Panthers had seen their playoff run come to an abrupt and bitter end, and Stephen Weiss already was looking forward to preparing for next season.

For Weiss and his Panthers, the 3-2 double-overtime loss to New Jersey in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals may have marked the end of their season, but what they did to get themselves in that Game 7 in the first place signified the start of something big in Florida.

"This is not where the hockey people predicted us to be at the start of the year," said Weiss, who had endured eight seasons of playoff-less hockey before this year. "We've done some good things. We're obviously disappointed not being able to move on. It's been a fun year, it's been a fun playoff in front of our fans. They've been fantastic. And it stings. It stings to lose at home.

Panthers' comeback comes up short

Alain Poupart - Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers came painfully, agonizingly close to winning their first playoff series since 1996, and in their solemn and quiet dressing room they could only look back with some pride at a great comeback that came up just short.

Shawn Matthias
Center - FLA
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 9 | +/-: -2
"A lot of character in this room," center Shawn Matthias said after a 3-2 double-overtime loss to New Jersey in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. "We showed that all series. There's a lot of games we came back and battled hard. In the end, proud of all the guys in here, a great group, and proud to be a part of this team, but really wanted that one."

Down 2-0 after two periods against New Jersey on Thursday night, the Panthers drew even with a pair of power-play goals, including Marcel Goc's game-tying tally with 3:28 left in regulation.

But the Panthers' dream season, which included the first playoff berth in 12 years and the first division title in franchise history, came to an abrupt and devastating end when Adam Henrique scored at 3:47 of the second overtime.

Devils rookie Henrique turns into OT hero

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Who said the seventh and deciding game in a Stanley Cup Playoff series was a time for veteran leaders to prove their mettle?

Adam Henrique
Center - NJD
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 1
New Jersey Devils rookie center Adam Henrique proved that youngsters with just a sprinkling of playoff experience can step up and be counted in the thick of a winner-take-all confrontation.

"Somebody has to be the hero, right?" Henrique asked. "Why not me?"

Exactly. Why not?

The 22-year-old Henrique was the hero on Thursday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal round when he scored his second goal of the game 3:47 into the second overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.

Brodeur brings wealth of experience to Game 7

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be manning the goal crease in Game 7 of a playoff series for the 10th time in his illustrious career Thursday when his team battles the Florida Panthers in the final game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal here at BankAtlantic Center (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brodeur, who is 11-12 with a 1.98 goals-against average in elimination games, is second only to Hall of Famer Patrick Roy (13) in Game 7 starts. He's 5-4 in his first nine Game 7s.

Brodeur said his most memorable Game 7 was a 24-save, 3-0 shutout against the Anaheim Ducks to win the 2003 Stanley Cup.

"I remember a lot of them. I remember the ones I want to remember," Brodeur said. "I think everybody has to dig deep, play well and leave it out there and we'll see."

If the Devils fail to advance beyond the opening round for the fifth straight season, would Brodeur consider this to be one of his most disappointing setbacks?

Three keys to victory for Panthers, Devils

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The postseason showdown between the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils is a lot different this time around.

The only other time the clubs met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was in 2000, when the Devils eliminated the Panthers in a four-game first-round sweep.

On Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN), the sixth-seeded Devils and third-seeded Panthers face off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before an expected full house here at BankAtlantic Center.

The Devils will be playing their 14th Game 7 in team history, while the Panthers will be in only their second.

Panthers look ahead to franchise's second Game 7

Alain Poupart - Correspondent

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- This is really nothing new for the Florida Panthers.

After holding first place in the Southeast Division for more than two-thirds of the regular season, the Panthers didn't clinch the first division title in franchise history until the final day.

Now, they're preparing for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey after holding series leads of 2-1 and 3-2.

DeBoer not focused on the past ahead of Game 7

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- It's amazing how the hockey gods seemingly spin their magic during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How else can you explain the situation in which New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer now finds himself?

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in three seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers, here's DeBoer with an opportunity to advance into the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the very place where it all began.

Healthy Zajac continues to come up big for Devils

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was early January and Travis Zajac wasn't feeling right. His surgically repaired left Achilles tendon was acting up and he knew, despite the urge to battle through the pain, that he just couldn't play on.

Travis Zajac
Center - NJD
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 14 | +/-: 0
That was the low point, when Zajac wondered if he would play another hockey game before next season.

"That put a damper on things," Zajac said.

It's all forgotten now. The rehab, all those hours spent alone in the gym, by himself on the ice, away from the team -- all worth it.

Zajac is, for the second time in his Devils career, a playoff overtime hero. He kept New Jersey's season alive in Game 6 Tuesday against the Panthers by scoring 5:39 into overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 victory and force the series back to Florida for Game 7 Thursday.

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