The Florida Panthers take a 2-1 series lead into Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, tonight at 7:00 PM ET to take on the Devils. The two split the first two games on Florida's home ice earlier, as New Jersey won 3-2 in game one and the Panthers came back with a victory in game two, 4-2. Florida capped a historic comeback in Newark on Tuesday night, by scoring four unanswered goals to win game three, 4-3.
Three other games are happening around the NHL tonight. The Boston Bruins, up two games to one, play game four against the Capitals in Washington. The Chicago Blackhawks, down two games to one, will face the Phoenix Coyotes in Chicago. The St. Louis Blues look to extend their two to one series lead on the San Jose Sharks home ice.
Last night, the Ottawa Senators defeated the New York Rangers, 3-2 in overtime to tie their series at two games apiece. The Pittsburgh Penguins staved off elimination for another day, winning their first playoff game of the season in a 10-3 dismantling of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Canucks avoided a riot on the streets of Vancouver by finally beating the upstart Los Angeles Kings, 3-1. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators are up three games to one over the Detroit Red Wings, and will play game five tomorrow.
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 home.
After dropping game one in Sunrise, the Panthers are currently riding a two game winning streak in the series against the Devils. Things weren't looking good for the Cats early, as Jose Theodore allowed three goals on the six shots he faced. Zach Parise (1) scored 33 seconds into the first period, Stephen Gionta (1) extended the lead at the three minute mark, and Patrik Elias (2) added a power play marker for the Devils three goal lead with 54 minutes still to play in the game. Scott Clemmensen would take the ice after the third goal. The Devils strength during the regular season proved to be their downfall on Tuesday, as the penalty kill allowed Florida to go three for three on the power play. Sean Bergenheim (2) started the comeback with four minutes left in the opening frame on a power play goal with assists by Scottie Upshall (1) and Scott Clemmensen. On Florida's next power play, Jason Garrison (1) scored his first career playoff goal with only eight seconds remaining on the clock, assists to Bergenheim (2) and Brian Campbell (2). After the break, Mike Weaver (1) got in on the action. After not having scored a goal during the 82-game regular season, he opened up on Martin Brodeur (9-of-12) from the blue line for the equalizer. Jerred Smithson (1) and Upshall (2) earned the helpers on the goal. Devils coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough, and pulled Brodeur in favor of Johan Hedberg (13-of-14). It didn't make much difference for Florida, as just four minutes later, Brian Campbell (1) would score a power play goal of his own to take the lead, assists by Mikael Samuelsson (4) and Tomas Fleischmann (2). With 33 minutes left to play, Florida just killed off any New Jersey threats to score, as the Devils looked to be skating on borrowed legs (and borrowed time). Clemmensen earned his first career playoff victory after saving all 19 of the shots he faced.
My playoff experience has all been with the Devils. Marty has been the guy to carry the load and I would go in when something bad happened. But Florida is unique in that I have always felt I've been a contributor all year long. I felt like we would need all the guys on the roster throughout the regular season and I felt like one of those guys.
Panthers @ Devils 04/17/12 (via NHLVideo)
Panthers backup goaltender Scott 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.
Panthers 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.
The Devils other fourth line winger, Steve Bernier, 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, Sean Bergenheim - 2
Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Kris Versteeg, Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison, Brian Campbell - 1
Mikael Samuelsson - 4
Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim - 2
Mikael Samuelsson, Sean Bergenheim - 4
Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell - 2
Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Mike Weaver - plus-1
Patrik Elias - 2
Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk - 1
David Clarkson - 2
11 Devils tied with 1
Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson - 2
Bryce Salvador - plus-4
Marek Zidlicky - plus-3
Stephen Gionta - plus-2
Presumably, Jack Skille will be back next season while Matt Bradley may be available in the near future. Krys Barch, Wojtek Wolski, Keaton Ellerby and Mike Santorelli are likely scratches.
Jacob Josefson is out with a broken clavicle, and Henrik Tallinder is listed as "doubtful" for the playoffs.
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
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Jose Theodore (1-1, .884, 3.84) is still Florida's number one, but Scott Clemmensen (1-0, 1.000, 0.00) proved he had what it takes on Tuesday to match up in the postseason.
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur (1-1, .869, 3.40) is still listed as the probable starter for tonight's matchup. Johan Hedberg (0-1, .929, 1.67) is also a possibility for New Jersey.
For all you extreme statheads out there, advanced statistics for the Panthers - Devils series are available 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.
The Panthers are busy surprising the NHL, who were busy ignoring the team throughout the year. As such, Florida was written off before the series even started. New Jersey fields the oldest average team (30 years old, including seven who are 33 and over) in the NHL, and it's showing for these playoffs. Florida's power play has proved deadly for these tired Devils, (6-of-10) who on each night seem to show up for around 15 minutes on average. New Jersey fans are asking, "Why can't we show up and play a whole game like we did for the (first period in game one, third period in game two, half of the first period in game three)?" I'll tell you why they can't show up for the whole game. It's because they're too tired. Oh sure, midway through the first period of Tuesday's game, it looked like the Devils had seven or eight guys on the ice. They were thoroughly outhustling the Panthers to every loose puck, blitzing Jose Theodore with the kitchen sink, and intimidating the heck out of Florida's long suffering fanbase. But they exhausted everything they had, and for the final 53 minutes of the game, looked like they were skating through sludge (they were, but so were we). Earlier, I said that if the Panthers earn the split in New Jersey, they would only need to win the remaining home games in the series. Having taken the first game, this seems to be the only one we can actually afford to lose. Don't bet on it though, we've got these Devils on the ropes. Look for Florida to give up two or three goals in a 10 minute span at some point early the game before tightening the screws and putting the Devils against the wall. Panthers 4, Devils 2.