SUNRISE, Fla. — The last time the Florida Panthers were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were swept in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by a New Jersey Devils team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in six years.
Veteran Panthers center John Madden has fond memories of that series -- because he was a part of it, as a member of the Devils.
"It was my first playoff series, actually, so I do remember it quite well," Madden said. "I remember that year [Pavel] Bure was on their team. I just remember him being extremely fast throughout the series but at the same time I remember winning four straight. It was just fun. It was a good experience for me because it was my first time; had a lot of fun in that series."
Madden is hoping to have more fun in this year's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch, which starts Friday night at the BankAtlantic
It's a series between two teams with some interesting ties.
The biggest, clearly, is Devils head coach Peter DeBoer, who's in his first year with New Jersey after spending three seasons behind the bench in Florida.
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DeBoer was fired last April after the Panthers closed out a 10th consecutive non-playoff season while finishing with the worst record
in the Eastern Conference.
In DeBoer's defense, the Panthers were in full rebuilding mode in 2010-11 and moved several veterans around the NHL Trade Deadline to
accumulate draft picks and create salary-cap space.
In his first year in New Jersey, DeBoer oversaw a 21-point increase as the Devils returned to the postseason after a one-year absence.
Kevin Dineen, meanwhile, guided a revamped roster to the Panthers' first-ever division title.
"I think both teams are happy," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "I'm really happy for Pete. He's a great guy. He's a good coach. He did a hell of a job in New Jersey. We brought Kevin in here because he's a guy that I know more of and I have a better feel for. But congratulations to them and to Pete. I don't have any animosity toward him. I wish him all the best in the world and I hope we beat them in overtime in Game 7 and win the series, that's all."
When the Devils played their first game at the BankAtlantic Center in November, DeBoer was very candid in acknowledging the significance of his return to South Florida.
But any nostalgic feelings have long disappeared.
"I enjoyed my time there," DeBoer said. "My family enjoyed it. I appreciate the opportunity I got there as my first coaching job. It's nice to go back. We did our pre-scout meeting on Florida and out of the 12 forwards in their starting lineup, potentially for Friday, I coached two of them and that was a year ago.
"It's a different team. Different team, different time and we've moved on."
In all, only six players expected to suit up for the Panthers on Friday played for DeBoer -- centers Stephen Weiss and Shawn Matthias, defensemen Jason Garrison, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver; and goalie Scott Clemmensen.
The Panthers and Devils held the third and sixth positions, respectively,in the Eastern Conference for several days down the stretch, and right after their matchup was cemented with the Panthers' 4-1 Southeast Division-clinching victory against Carolina last Saturday, Weiss was asked about facing his former coach.
"Certainly I've been thinking about it, but we're not worried about that," Weiss said. "We know what he brings and what type of style they play. They're going to be tight defensively, you're not going to have a lot of ice and we're going to have to earn all of our chances. That's the way it's going to be in the playoffs throughout, but we're excited."
Clemmensen played two seasons under DeBoer after signing with the Panthers as a free agent in the summer of 2009.
The move came after Clemmensen's breakout year with New Jersey in 2008-09 when he went 25-13-1 in 40 games while Brodeur was out with a biceps injury.
Clemmensen previously had appeared in 25 games for New Jersey during parts of four seasons.
"It's always unique playing against your former team," Clemmensen said. "It adds a little bit of a unique element to it. That's the same for everyone. For John Madden and myself, it is going to take on a special kind of flavor. It's because you respect the guys over there and management and the coaches, and you're so familiar with everyone, you're friends with them. Knowing that, it doesn't make it any more important. You're still trying to get a win. You're trying to win the series no matter who it's against."
Even though Dineen hadn't announced his starting goalie for Game 1 as of Thursday night, Clemmensen could find himself going up against Brodeur at some point in the series.
Clemmensen was terrific down the stretch for the Panthers and he also has had great success against the Devils. In five career starts against New Jersey, Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA and a .937 save percentage.
"It's a situation where I know obviously my career isn't even going tocome close to matching his career and I have a lot of respect for him, but at the same time I believe I can go out there and beat anyone on any given night," Clemmensen said of the possibility of facing Brodeur. "For one game, I can beat anyone. If that's the case, if I end up playing against him, then I believe I can beat him. That night. And you take it one game at a time that way. It's not a situation where I think, hey, Marty Brodeur is a better goalie than I am, so I have no chance. That doesn't happen. I believe I can beat any goalie on any given night."
Clemmensen, whose NHL career began with two appearances with New Jersey in 2002, wasn't part of either Devils Stanley Cup-winning teams in the 2000s.
Madden was a member of both the 2000 and 2003 teams, and he was part of a third Stanley Cup-winning team in Chicago in 2010.
He's playing for his fourth team in the past four years after spending this past season with Minnesota. But after having spent the first decade of his career in New Jersey, it's clear this series will have a lot ofmeaning for him.
"I still have friends on the team," Madden said. "But it's business as usual. We're trying to win hockey games."