NEWARK, N.J. -- Is there any doubt playoff hockey brings out the best in Florida Panthers left wing Sean Bergenheim?
After missing out on all the fun of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first five seasons with the New York Islanders -- the team that drafted him with the 22nd pick in 2002 -- Bergenheim has proven to be one tough hombre the past two seasons in the State of Florida.
It all started last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has seemingly gathered steam with the Panthers in 2011-12.
Bergenheim hopes his success continues on Tuesday when the Panthers visit Prudential Center to face the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, which is even at a game apiece.
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"It's not only his goal-scoring touch with timely goals, but even though he's not an abrasive player, he's a hard player to play against," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He goes out there, is engaged, he's involved in every play, and he has a good stick. And sometimes an effective stick is as good as a big, strong, physical guy."
In his first playoff game with the Panthers last Friday, Bergenheim scored the team's first goal in a 3-2 loss to the Devils at BankAtlantic Center. In a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on Sunday, he notched an assist to boost his career playoff total to 10 goals and 13 points in 18 games.
He's not only notched two points for the Panthers this postseason, but also leads the team with 11 hits. He seems to have found a home on a line with center Marcel Goc and right wing Mikael Samuelsson.
"I think we're playing responsible hockey and we make it hard for the opponent to play us," Bergenheim told NHL.com. "I don't think there's any line out there that we can't handle. Also, we've chipped in offensively. We're pretty well-balanced. We are a two-way line, and we have offense and some skill. That's what makes it work."
During the 2010 offseason, Bergenheim signed a one-year contract with the Lightning and played a big role in helping the club advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. He ranked second on the team with nine goals and fifth with 32 hits in 16 playoff games.
"Going through that experience really made me even hungrier to get back there this year," Bergenheim said.
On the opening day of free agency last July, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon went on a spending spree, inking Bergenheim to a four-year contract. The 28-year-old Finn finished the regular season with a career-high 17 goals and six assists in 62 games, despite being sidelined twice by injuries. In October, he sat out seven games with a lower-body injury, and in December missed 12 more with a groin strain.
"It was tough [being injured], because I felt I could give a lot and felt ready to go this season and show what I could do," Bergenheim said. "I really couldn't play at 100 percent the first part of the season, and twice I had to take a break and rehab and get the injury to feel as good as I possibly could.
"It was frustrating, coming to new team, wanting to impress and wanting to take the next step. But that's in the past … we're in the playoffs, and I'm having fun and feeling good now."
In addition to Bergenheim, Tallon also signed Goc, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore, ex-Panther Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Fleischmann during free agency.
"We had a lot of new guys come in and, combined with the veterans who were already here and anxious to see the team do well, it all came together," Bergenheim said. "Speaking for the new guys, I know we all wanted to change the course of the organization a little bit. Personally, I think it's a reflection of the new guys and the old guys here. I'm very proud we made the playoffs but, having said that, we haven't won anything yet.
"It's been a good season so far, but we don't want it to end."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale