CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen's toughness never came into question during his long NHL playing career, but he said what happened during Game 3 of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series Sunday went over the line.
There hasn't been that kind of over-the-top physicality in the New Jersey-Florida series, just some physical, aggressive play, and two games that have seen two valiant comeback efforts fall short.
As the series shifts to New Jersey for Game 3 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) tied at one win apiece, Dineen looked back at the first two games.
"Definitely it has not had the edge of pretty well all the other series so far," Dineen said. "For me, it's hard to build up a lot of animosity because I think there's a lot of respect for their organization from the top down. We're trying to be as physical as we can. I think it's been a well-called series with the exception of maybe the first call of the series [a double-minor on Florida center Shawn Matthias]. The players understand that special teams have played a big role in the game and we're trying to keep our discipline at the right level."
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The Panthers had an optional skate at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Monday, and the only players taking part were the four who were healthy scratches in the first two games -- forwards Jerred Smithson, Krystofer Barch and Mike Santorelli, and defenseman Keaton Ellerby -- along with backup goalie Scott Clemmensen and injured forward Matt Bradley.
Dineen said Bradley, who has been out with a concussion since mid-February, has been cleared to skate with his teammates but not cleared for contact.
"He won't be available until he gets clearance by the doctors, and once that happens he'll still be at least a week or two away from actually playing," Dineen said.
Dineen said there was a sense of relief among his team after the Panthers evened the series with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on Sunday, when the Panthers held on after New Jersey cut into their 3-0 lead with two goals in the first 2:02 of the third period.
The Panthers also have reason to feel confident after staying with the Devils, if not outplaying them, for most of the first two games.
"You look at [Sunday's] game and even the two previous periods from Game 1, I thought we carried a lot of the play, minus a couple of minutes last game at the start of the third," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We've got to feel good. Anytime you get a win, things go your way, you feel good about it. As a group, we've got to do a lot of the same things that we did [Sunday]."
The one area where the Panthers have been especially impressive so far in the series is special teams.
New Jersey set a modern-era record in the regular season by killing off 89.6 percent of their penalties, but the Panthers produced at a 42.9-percent clip on the power play in the first two games.
Granted, one of the three goals came on a two-minute five-on-three advantage, but even without that, the Panthers still would be 2-for-5 (40 percent).
"We had a good power play all year," said Stephen Weiss, who had two power-play goals in the win Sunday. "We feel like we can create chances and score on anyone when we're doing the right things. It hasn't been anything special. We're just shooting the puck and getting rebounds. That's what it's going to take. There's not many pretty plays, just shooting the puck when you have the chance and getting traffic in front, and getting a couple of bounces around the net doesn't hurt, either."
At the other end, the Panthers have killed off seven of eight New Jersey power plays.
The Devils and Panthers combined to average only 17 penalty minutes in the first two games, making it the third-least penalized series so far, behind only Boston-Washington and Phoenix-Chicago.
The Panthers also wouldn't mind another fast start, although they'll find it difficult to match what they did on Sunday, when Weiss scored 23 seconds into the game.
The fast start led the Panthers to the franchise's first playoff victory since April 17, 1997. Weiss was asked Monday whether he remembered where he might have been at that time.
"No, I don't," Weiss, who was 14 years old at the time, said. "Obviously playing somewhere, junior A or minor hockey back home. It's been a long time and we're happy to be the group that did it.
"It was an important game for us. We didn't want to go to their barn down two games. Nice to get that win and now we've got to try to get a couple on the road."
Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent