The Panthers visit the Rock for the final time this season for game six with a chance to eliminate the New Jersey Devils. Florida currently leads the series, 3-2. In game one, New Jersey won 3-2 in Sunrise. The Panthers rebounded for a 4-2 game two victory at home. After traveling to New Jersey, Florida completed a comeback on Devils ice from a 3-0 deficit in game three to win 4-3. Game four would see Martin Brodeur shut the Panthers out, 4-0 at the Prudential Center. Jose Theodore returned the favor with his second career playoff shutout, blanking the Devils 3-0 in Sunrise.
Out of the eight first-round series, only three are still undecided, all in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals will visit the Boston Bruins for game seven tomorrow, and the Ottawa Senators take a trip to MSG for game seven with the New York Rangers on Thursday. Previously, the Philadelphia Flyers dispatched the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings surprised the top-rated Vancouver Canucks, four games to one. After allowing the San Jose Sharks to post a victory in game one, the St. Louis Blues reeled off four straight to advance to the Semi-finals. Our fellow three-seeded underdog Phoenix Coyotes eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, winning last night, 4-0, and the Nashville Predators shut down the high-powered Detroit Red Wings in five games.
The Panthers and Devils had faced each other four times during the regular season, with Florida posting a 2-1-1 record: won 4-3 in November, lost a 3-2 shootout in December, dropped a 5-2 matchup in January and won 3-1 in February. As for the regular season, Florida posted a 17-17-7 (.500) road record while the Devils were 24-13-4 (.634) at the Prudential Center.
Coming off a 4-0 shutout of the Panthers in game four, the Devils marched into Bank Atlantic Center on Saturday night with aspirations of pushing Florida to the edge. Jose Theodore (2-1, .919, 2.59) would have no part of it, blanking the Devils by stopping each of New Jersey's 30 shots on goal. Martin Brodeur (2-2, .916, 2.32) took the loss, allowing two goals on 32 shots by the Panthers. After a scoreless first period, Kris Versteeg (2) opened the scoring with four minutes gone in the second on a sharp angle slapshot with a man advantage for a 1-0 Florida lead. Stephen Weiss (1) and Brian Campbell (3) earned assists on the play. With seven minutes remaining in regulation, normally sharp puck-handler Brodeur misjudged a puck outside the crease, allowing it to be stolen by Kris Versteeg (2), who fed it to a streaking Scottie Upshall (1) for a 2-0 advantage. Shawn Matthias (1) was also credited with an assist. With less than a minute remaining, and the Panthers killing an ill advised Erik Gudbranson roughing penalty, Tomas Kopecky (1) broke into the Devils zone uncontested, but was hooked by a desperate Ilya Kovalchuk trying to prevent the score. The goal was awarded, and the final margin stood, Panthers 3, Devils 0. After the game, Devils captain Zach Parise was dismissive of Theodore's accomplishment,
We didn't compete hard enough. We lost a lot of one-on-one pucks that we were winning in the last game and we didn't do that tonight. As far as [Theodore is] concerned, we didn't challenge him enough. He got real lucky on a lot of them. A lot. [Ilya Kovalchuk] going through his legs, it went wide. I got my stick on a couple that just trickled wide. We got a lot of those types, but we can make it tougher.
Devils @ Panthers 04/21/12 (via NHLVideo)
Florida's Clemmensen posted a 32-19-5 record for the Devils over parts of five seasons. He had a .910 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against average with four shutouts during his time there. He has one game of playoff experience, and that came with the Devils six seasons ago, as he recorded saves on each of the three shots he faced.
Fourth line center John Madden played the bulk of his NHL career in New Jersey. In 712 games over 10 seasons, he totalled 140 goals and 157 assists with a plus-35 rating and 193 penalty minutes. He also won two Stanley Cups with the team, in 112 career postseason matchups with the Devils, he scored 20 goals and 21 assists with a plus-three rating and 24 penalty minutes.
Devils fourth line winger Steve Bernier scored five goals and 10 assists over 68 games with the Panthers last season.
He also registered a minus-14 rating with 21 penalty minutes.
Another fourth line wing, Ryan Carter, began this season with Florida. Over parts of two seasons, he played 19 games, scoring two goals and an assist with a plus-two rating and 28 penalty minutes.
Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim - 2
Seven Panthers tied with one
Mikael Samuelsson - 4
Brian Campbell - 3
Five Panthers tied with two
Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Brian Campbell, Mikael Samuelsson - 4
Travis Zajac - 4
Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador,
David Clarkson - 3
Bryce Salvador, Stephen Gionta - plus-3
Ryan Carter, Stephen Bernier, David Clarkson - plus-2
Jack Skille is out until next season. Matt Bradley is traveling with the team, and may soon be available for a return to action. Jason Garrison missed the last two games with a lower body injury. Keaton Ellerby is also out with a lower body injury.
Probable Starting Lineups
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Jerred Smithson - Shawn Matthias - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Jose Theodore (2-1, .919. 2.59) is Florida's likely starter between the pipes tonight. Scott Clemmensen (1-1, .913, 2.11) remains available.
Martin Brodeur (2-2, .916, 2.32) will probably start the remainder of New Jersey's playoff series with Florida (hopefully just one game), Johan Hedberg (0-1, .929, 1.67) will back him up.
For more advanced stats, check here.
Panthers: 38-26-18, .573, 94 points, first Southeast Divison, third Eastern Conference, 14th NHL.
Devils: 48-28-6, .622, 102 points, fourth Atlantic Division, sixth Eastern Conference, ninth NHL.
New Jersey's record setting penalty kill unit has proved anything but special this postseason, with a 68.2% penalty kill rate (14th in the NHL). This corresponds to the Panthers unexpectedly hot power play, ranked third in the league at 31.8%. Continuing to exploit this unexpected weakness will lead to the Panthers lining up this coming weekend against the Bruins, Flyers, Rangers or Senators. The Panthers would do right not to underestimate the Devils, who haven't won a home elimination game in their last five tries. Their last victory in such a situation was on May 13, 2006, when they staved off elimination in game four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 in game four. Of course, they lost game five in Carolina. To take the Devils lightly based on recent history would ignore the fact that Florida's recent history is record breaking in its own futility. Winning tonight would be Florida's first postseason series victory since the legendary run of 1996. If your kid was born on the date of Florida's last postseason series victory, that kid would be testing for his or her driver's license five weeks from now. Tonight, I'm banking on the top line combining for six points, like earlier in the season, that and Jose allowing two goals or fewer in a Panthers win.