SUNRISE, Fla. -- Martin Brodeur
will begin his 17th playoff run Friday, but he doesn’t remember ever having to wait this long to get going.
Six days after wrapping up the regular season, the New Jersey Devils
and Florida Panthers
finally get to start their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at the BankAtlantic Center.
It's the last series to get going, as three series started Wednesday and four more began Thursday.
"It's extremely exciting, to say the least," Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson
said after his team's morning skate. "The long wait that we had made it even better for us to jump on the saddle and get ready to go here. We're extremely excited in the room here and ready to get going."
If there's such a thing as carrying momentum into the playoffs, the Devils probably would have wanted to start the series as early as possible.
While Florida endured a season-high five-game losing streak before clinching the Southeast Division title by beating Carolina in the regular season finale, the Devils streaked into the playoffs by finishing with six consecutive victories.
It was the longest winning streak in the NHL at the end of the regular season.
"We had some guys that were carrying some injuries that it's good to get them that extra couple days off," Devils captain Zach Parise
said. "But, yeah, when you're playing well and feeling good, you always want to be keep playing that next day. In the long run, it was good for us to get a little rest and heal some guys."
New Jersey went 12-4-1 in its 17 games, but coach Peter DeBoer
isn't sure that will mean much once the series begins.
"I talked to Lou [Lamoriello], he's probably the greatest resource for me on playoff hockey with his success, and he's had teams that stumbled in and won and teams that lit things up the last 10 games and lost," DeBoer said. "I don't know if there's a right formula. I can tell you I would rather have won six in a row than not heading in. Hopefully that sets the table for us. But it doesn't guarantee anything."
Starting the series so late gave both teams plenty of practice time. There's also been a lot of playoff watching.
"It's definitely a fun part of the year," Panthers forward Kris Versteeg
said. "It's a fun time to be a player and a fan of the game as well. ... We're fortunate enough to have made the playoffs. We've been on a long wait, but now it's here and now we're excited about it."
The last time the Panthers hosted a playoff game was April 20, 2000, and the BankAtlantic Center was known as the National Car Rental Center then.
If nothing else, the late start to the series gave the Panthers and their fans more time to savor the team's first-ever division title.
"It's been a good week," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen
said. "Watched some games and everything's been so close, three overtime games last night. It's been an enjoyable week for us to be able to reflect on our full season, but we're certainly ready to put that in the rearview mirror and get going in the playoffs."