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Three keys to victory for Panthers, Devils

by Mike G. Morreale /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The postseason showdown between the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils is a lot different this time around.

The only other time the clubs met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was in 2000, when the Devils eliminated the Panthers in a four-game first-round sweep.

On Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN), the sixth-seeded Devils and third-seeded Panthers face off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before an expected full house here at BankAtlantic Center.

The Devils will be playing their 14th Game 7 in team history, while the Panthers will be in only their second.

Here are three keys to victory for both teams:



Devils beat Panthers in OT to force Game 7

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer
Travis Zajac ripped home a wrist shot from the left circle 5:39 into overtime Tuesday night, enabling the Devils to live another day with a 3-2 win against the Panthers and force a Game 7 back in Florida.

1. Gudbranson on Kovalchuk -- If there's one thing that has remained consistent throughout this series, it's that Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson doesn't shy away from contact, particularly when matched against Devils star forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Gudbranson, who has a team-high 22 hits in the playoffs, has done an admirable job whenever coach Kevin Dineen has put him opposite the big Russian. Dineen needs to continue to exploit that matchup, especially having the last line change on home ice.

2. Need to generate more shots -- While New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur has played well in this series, he has looked human on more than a few occasions. The Panthers play their best when they're generating quality chances by firing pucks on net and crashing the cage when given the opportunity. The team was outshot 42-16 in Game 6, and while they still had a chance to win it in the end, they were outplayed and out-chanced for a majority of the game and ultimately lost in overtime. That needs to change.

3. Get the early lead -- The team that has notched the first goal of the game in this series has won five of the six games. It certainly would serve the Panthers well to jump on the Devils early -- not only to restore any confidence they may have lost in Tuesday's overtime defeat, but to fire up the sold out BankAtlantic Center crowd and plant that seed of doubt along the Devils bench.


1. Stay out of the penalty box -- While the Devils had the League's No. 1-ranked penalty-killing unit during the regular season, it struggled at the outset of the series, allowing six goals on 10 chances in the first three games. Lately, however, the team has regained its shorthanded swagger, holding Florida to just one goal over 13 times shorthanded in the last three games. Coach Peter DeBoer would prefer his team stay out of the penalty box completely so as to not give Florida any momentum -- the Devils committed just one minor penalty in their Game 6 win.

2. The stars must shine -- The Devils' big guns really had an impact in Game 6, which was one reason New Jersey was able to extend the series. On the overtime winner, there were four incredible plays that made it possible -- Zach Parise broke up a two-on-one with a great backcheck, Brodeur made a key save, and Kovalchuk made a great pass to Travis Zajac, who unleashed a wicked shot.

"It's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players this time of year and in Game 6, ours were," DeBoer said.

3. Keep the pedal to the metal -- On three separate occasions in this series, the Devils have jumped to a seemingly comfortable advantage only to have the Panthers storm back. In Game 1, the Devils took a 3-0 lead and had to hold on for a 3-2 win. In Game 3, the Devils again took a 3-0 lead only to allow the Panthers to score four straight to win 4-3. And in Game 6, the Devils had a 2-0 lead before Florida rallied to force overtime. If New Jersey does grab the early edge, it needs to seal the deal and deny the Panthers and their fans any ray of hope.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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