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Panthers close to Devils in playoff experience level

by Alain Poupart /

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2000, but this is not a team lacking in postseason experience.

In fact, they're pretty close in that department to their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal opponents, the New Jersey Devils, a team that's missed the playoffs just three times since 1988 and has won the Stanley Cup three times in the last 17 years.

The players on the Devils' roster have combined for 908 Stanley Cup Playoff games, led by goalie Martin Brodeur's 181 and Patrik Elias' 138.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have a combined 790 playoff games, topped by former Devils center John Madden's 134, Mikael Samuelsson's 92 and Brian Campbell's 90.

However, Florida has the edge when it comes to the number of players with at least 40 career playoff games, with nine compared to New Jersey's seven.

And the Panthers also have five players -- Madden, Campbell, Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg -- who have won the Stanley Cup, compared to the New Jersey trio of Brodeur, Elias and Petr Sykora.

"You know what to expect," said Samuelsson, who began the season with Vancouver before being acquired in the October trade that sent David Booth to the Canucks. "That's the major thing and hopefully it calms other people down who haven't been there. If you prepare for something, hopefully we know what's going to happen [Friday] in terms of intensity and physical play and stuff like that. It's going to be a good atmosphere and everybody is going to fight for every inch of the ice. That's the playoffs."


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The Panthers roster includes seven players (compared to five for New Jersey) who will be making their playoff debuts. The group is led, of course, by center Stephen Weiss, who will be making the first playoff appearance of his career after appearing in 637 regular-season games.

The others are forwards Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli, and defensemen Jason Garrison, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby.

Of the seven, Santorelli is the only one who has played for a team other than Florida. Santorelli played 32 games for Nashville during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons but never appeared in the postseason.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he asked some of his veterans during team meetings to share their playoff experiences.

"It is a different style of hockey," said the first-year coach, who appeared in 59 playoff games during his NHL playing career. "You watch some of the games [Thursday] and the intensity is just ramped up. It is like a whole different world out there. And there were some good lessons last night, the way Pittsburgh started like gangbusters and then Philly found a way to keep coming back. Every game has meaning and every play has meaning. That's probably the main focus. When you have veteran leadership that has been through these kinds of situations before, it's very helpful for the whole group."

But Campbell, who is in the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, said postseason experience can be overrated.

"I know I've been to the playoffs before where hardly anybody has had experience and everybody does just fine and probably enjoys it a lot more with it being their first time," said Campbell, whose first playoff experience came in 2006 with the Buffalo Sabres. "I've been on two teams before where, 'Oh, they don't have any playoff experience,' and both those teams went to the conference finals. I don't buy into all that too much."

The way Weiss sees it, playoff experience is nice, but hockey still is hockey.

"We've got guys who have been there, done that, won Stanley Cups, whatever it may be, as does New Jersey," Weiss said. "At the end of the day, it's a hockey game. I know how to play hockey. I'm just going to go out and do my thing. In the back of your mind, you know it's going to be a little bit tighter and you've got to earn your ice. But that's fun. That's what playoff hockey is all about.

"At the end of the day, it's the same game we've been playing all year."

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