While the Panthers couldn't get greedy liked they had hoped by carrying a 3-1 series advantage into Game 5 on Saturday (6:30 PM start, 5:00 PM doors at the BankAtlantic Center), they do still have a lot going for them.
For starters, the two teams played Game 4 extremely close for the first forty minutes with New Jersey holding a one-goal advantage on a double deflection on a power play goal. If not for a two minute span early in the second, the Panthers could have had a legitimate chance at tying the score.
"They got one to make it 2-0 and then 3-0," said forward Stephen Weiss
following the game. "That's a tough team to come back from. We did it the other night but tough to get two or three with 20 minutes to go."
"It was a tight game. It was 1-0 after two periods. It was still there," said goaltender Scott Clemmensen
who made the first post-season start of his NHL career and stopped 23 shots in the loss. "It was anyone's game going into the third period and they really took the momentum in third and grabbed it."
Not wanting to have to fend off elimination in Sunrise in Game 5, the Devils just came out and outplayed the Panthers overall. They killed off all six Panthers power play chances and scored on two of their own in picking up the 4-0 victory.
"It got away from us in the third. Actually a little bit in the second as well," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "We didn't seem to have the desperation that they had even though you're down one goal, you still think it's a doable game the way we played over the course of the year and that that isn't a big obstacle for us to come over but it just seemed like we were out of sorts in the third and couldn't establish our offensive game.
"We certainly were on the receiving end and didn't seem to have much answer for them."
"They needed to be and they proved it and that's how you win in the playoffs here," said Clemmensen about the Devils desperation. "You need a little bit of that regardless of what the situation is. Obviously they didn't want to go down 3-1."
"We've got to play the full 60 minutes," added forward Tomas Kopecky
. "At the beginning there in the third, we kind of let off. You still have to play the full sixty minutes. You have to be relentless on both sides. It doesn't matter if it's offense or defense. You have to grind it out. It's not going to be an easy game. There's not going to be one easy game."
Luckily with winning that Southeast Division championship, Florida earned the home-ice advantage for at least the first round. That means home ice in Game 5 and if necessary a deciding Game 7.
"We feel good. There's no panic here," said Kopecky. "Obviously it's 2-2 and we're coming back to our building and it's going to be exciting."
"We're happy to be home," said Weiss following the Panthers optional skate at Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs Friday afternoon. "It's two out of three and we have got (potentially) two games at home so we have to make sure we're ready to go and have a good start tomorrow and try to take care of home ice.
"After the first game in Jersey, it was a big win. Obviously you want to get greedy and get the next one but it didn't happen," said netminder Jose Theodore
following the skate. "They played a solid game. Marty played well. Now you go back home. You still have home ice advantage and it's a two-two series.
"If you would have told me before the series that it would have been two-two coming back home, I would take that any day."
And while both teams will be even more desperate to win a pivotal swing game in Game 5, Florida will have to be the team with more jump. They'll be playing in front of a capacity home crowd for one and they don't want to have to head back to New Jersey for Game 6, one loss away from playoff elimination for two. Teams that owned a 3-2 advantage in the series have gone on to win 79.3% of them (257-of-324) according to the website whowins.com.
"You come back squared up and we regain our home-ice advantage which was our goal," said Dineen. "And now we have to take advantage of this great fan-base we'll have...Our fans have been fabulous and I know that sold out building will be rocking tomorrow night."
"Like I said before the first game; the next game is going to be the biggest and that is it in the playoffs," said Theodore. "When the first game is over, the next one is the second. Obviously the next one, now that you're getting toward the end of the first round, obviously the next one is really big.
"It should be a fun game, a fun atmosphere in the building. It's a big one."