Your mighty Panthers host the Devils later this afternoon at the BAC for game five in what is turning out to be a pretty evenly matched series. The teams have split their first four, with each team winning and losing on their home ice. New Jersey won the opener, 3-2 in Florida. The Panthers rebounded for a 4-2 game two home victory. Florida completed a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in game three to win, 4-3, and New Jersey pasted Florida in game four, 4-0.
There's four other game fives happening around the NHL tonight, The Washington Capitals visit the Boston Bruins with the two teams tied at two games apiece for a 3:00 matinee. At 7, the eighth seeded Ottawa Senators visit the New York Rangers with the series tied at two. The San Jose Sharks try to stay alive against the high powered St. Louis Blues, down three games to one, while Our Western Conference mirror twin, the Phoenix Coyotes, try to take the next step, up three to one against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Last night, the Philadelphia Flyers failed for the second time to push the Pittsburgh Penguins over the edge, losing 3-2 but still holding the advantage in the series, also 3-2. The Nashville Predators were the first team to move on to the second round, beating the Detroit Red Wings, 2-1. The Preds will now get a breather to wait and see who they will face later this week. The Los Angeles Kings visit the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow night for game five, leading the top seed three games to one.
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 21-9-11 (.646) home record while the Devils were 24-15-2 (.610) away from The Rock.
Florida had high hopes, leading the series two-to-one headed into New Jersey for game four on Thursday night. Scott Clemmensen (1-1. .913, 2.11) allowed four goals on 27 shots in defeat, as Martin Brodeur (2-1, .908, 2.39) set a playoff record with his 24th career postseason shutout, facing down 26 Florida shots. After a scoreless first period, Zach Parise (2) opened the scoring for the Devils at the six minute mark of the second period, tipping in a Travis Zajac rebound on the power play. Marek Zidlicky also earned an assist. The Devils really put it out of reach early in the third, as Steve Bernier (1) scored just two minutes after taking the ice following the second intermission on a quick wrister with assists from Stephen Gionta and Martin Brodeur. Zajac (2) beat Clemmensen with a slapshot less than two minutes later, assisted by David Clarkson and Bryce Salvador. $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk (2) capped the scoring with 11 minutes remaining, scoring another power play marker against Clemmensen for the final margin, 4-0. Peter Harrold and Salvador earned assists on the goal. Afterwards, Stephen Weiss spoke about Brodeur:
Marty made some big saves and was good … they were desperate but we're going home where two out of the next three games will take place. We knew [Brodeur] would be ready to go [Thursday] and he made good saves when he had to. Now we have to find a way to get some past him.
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.
Mikael Samuelsson, Sean Bergenheim - 4
Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell - 2
Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Mike Weaver - plus-1
Keaton Ellerby, Stephen Weiss - even
Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac - 2
David Clarkson, Bryce Salvador - 3
Martin Brodeur, Marek Zidlicky, Travis Zajac - 2
Travis Zajac - 4
Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson - 3
Bryce Salvador - plus-4
Marek Zidlicky, Stephen Gionta - plus-3
Jack Skille is still out until next season while Matt Bradley remains tantalizingly close to returning to action. Jason Garrison missed game four with an injury, and while coach Kevin Dineen remains "cautiously optimistic" about a quick return, the Panthers also recalled defenseman Tyson Strachan from San Antonio earlier today to cover their bases. Keaton Ellerby is also likely shelved with a lower body injury.
Probable Starting Lineups
Jose Theodore (1-1, .884, 3.84) will probably get the start after a nice break. Scott Clemmensen (1-1. .913, 2.11) will likely play bench tonight.
Martin Brodeur (2-1, .908, 2.39) will probably start the remainder of New Jersey's playoff series with Florida, Johan Hedberg (0-1, .929, 1.67) remains available.
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.
Before last game, I said that game four was the only one that we could afford to lose. That remains the case tonight, as Florida cannot afford to lose on home ice. Game five winners usually end up winning the series when tied after four, and this one should prove no exception. New Jersey remains capable of great destructive power for short bursts, and the key in defeating them remains in shutting them down. Florida also has to watch out for the mighty Brodeur, who already has two assists in the series. Shutting down the lanes, passing and shooting, will give the Cats a chance to break out. The Devils penalty kill, so ineffective through the first three games (40% success rate), remembered they were good at it for game four, shutting down the Panthers on all six Devils penalties. While Brodeur hasn't lost a step in terms of his renowned passing ability, he still suffers from the occasional fat-reboundotosis. Florida has to work at parking one of their bigger bodies right down in front and screening Brodeur if they want to beat him. I'm going to not predict a score down here, because when I do, the Panthers lose. I will say that Shawn Matthias and Kris Versteeg are due for something, anything, and that Jose Theodore will be the biggest reason that Florida comes away with a win tonight.
For more on this matchup, check out our opponents at In Lou We Trust. Join us right here at 5:30 tonight when the first ever LBC Game Five Playoff Game Thread goes live!