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Panthers Look Ahead To Franchise's Second Game 7

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
The Panthers will play in just their second Game 7 in franchise history, first at home when they host the Devils Thursday (8:30pm)

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- This is really nothing new for the Florida Panthers.

After holding first place in the Southeast Division for more than two-thirds of the regular season, the Panthers didn't clinch the first division title in franchise history until the final day.

Now, they're preparing for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey after holding series leads of 2-1 and 3-2.

"We haven't made it easy on ourselves all season long, so why now?" right wing Kris Versteeg said Wednesday after the Panthers had an optional practice at their training complex. "We're excited about this.

"We're pumped. Obviously, you can't get too high after a win, you can't get too low after a loss. We've moved on from yesterday and we're excited about Game 7 now."

The Panthers were outshot 42-16 in Game 6 on Tuesday, yet found themselves with a chance to clinch the series in overtime until Travis Zajac won it for New Jersey.

It will be only the second Game 7 in Panthers history. The other came in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals when Florida won at Pittsburgh 3-1.

"We have a good feeling for our own team and obviously for the Devils as well," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's what seven games does. Certainly the series has had its ebbs and flows for both teams, and I don't think it's a surprise to most people on both teams that it ended up going seven games here."

The Panthers, though, clearly were hoping to close it out in Game 6.

"When you're up 3-2, obviously you're thinking about finishing it off, but we've got to turn the page," goalie Jose Theodore said. "It didn't happen. So now it's a Game 7. That's how the League is. You look around, especially in the East, three series are going to Game 7. It's really tight games and it's really hard to predict what can happen. It's good for the game when you have Game 7s like that."

The Panthers and Devils will have to wait longer than usual to start their Game 7, with faceoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

Dineen said Wednesday the Panthers will be holding their morning skate at their usual time.

"A little extra time in the afternoon to kind of recharge," Dineen said. "It changes your schedule a little bit, but like everything we're fairly adaptable. You throw a little audible in there and change the time by an hour, I don't think it's going to affect the game, specifically a Game 7."

The Panthers held a team meeting Wednesday before six players took the ice for an optional skate.

Dineen said his team would need a more complete effort to come through in Game 7 the way the Panthers came through in the regular-season finale when they handled Carolina 4-1 to clinch the Southeast.

"We talked a little about that as a team today, how you approach this going into it," Dineen said. "I don't think it's going to take a massive, incredible effort by one player. Where we've had success this year is our pack mentality, where we get contributions throughout our group. If we can do that, that's where we have success.

"That was the difference in Game 6. We had players who were really going and we had some players that weren't firing on all cylinders. We're going to need everybody going and I think we've got the right group. Again, a good reflection on Dale Tallon's nomination yesterday (as one of three finalists for GM of the Year) that he brought in the right kind of people for a game like tomorrow night."

Author: Alain Poupart | Correspondent

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