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Panthers win division, draw Devils in Round 1

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

In clinching the first division title in franchise history on Saturday night, the Florida Panthers closed the book on the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, securing the Southeast Division crown and the No. 3 postseason seed. They will meet the No. 6 New Jersey Devils in Round 1.

It'll be a reunion of sorts for several parties in both franchises. Florida center John Madden, who scored Saturday vs. the Hurricanes, began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was once a backup to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

On the other side, Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.

New Jersey, who missed the postseason for the first time since 1996 last year, won six straight games to close the regular season.

"It's one of the things we talked about. We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well. We've played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Now, the regular season is over.

"We will try to concentrate on the things we have to do. We did a good job staying focused. You never know what's going to happen. Now, we'll roll the dice, coming in hot."

The New York Rangers, who reserved the East top seed on Tuesday, will meet the No. 8 Ottawa Senators, who drifted down to the last seed after losing three in a row to close the year.

"I think we will look forward to starting the new season here. It's always a long year and a big grind. I can speak for myself, it's extremely satisfying being in the playoffs again. I am really looking forward to it," Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We'll have three or four days to get ready and get our legs going a little more. I think we'll bounce back and play some better hockey."

The other two East series feature the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins meeting the No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers, and the No. 2 Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, taking on the No. 7 Washington Capitals.

The Penguins and Flyers played twice in Pittsburgh in the regular-season's final seven days, splitting the pair.

"I think it's going to be a rough series. It won't be easy. They want to win as bad as us," Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. "We're a young team with a lot of injuries and we've got to make sure we go out there and outwork the Penguins. It's going to be a tough one."

And it will include Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who played in just 22 regular-season games. Crosby scored his eighth goal of the season Saturday, in the Penguins' 4-2 win over the Flyers.

"I expect a pretty intense series. If anything prior to this is any indication, that's pretty fair to say," Crosby said. "Those are the kind of series you want to be a part of."

The NHL will announce the first-round schedule on Sunday.

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