The Florida Panthers continue their first round playoff series tonight against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark tonight at 7:00 P.M. Each team earned a victory on Florida's home ice, the Devils, 3-2 on Friday night, and the Panthers 4-2 on Sunday.
Strange things are afoot around the NHL during this, our first week of playoff hockey this millenium. Last night, the New York Rangers downed the Ottawa Senators, 1-0 to go up two games to one. The Boston Bruins finally seem to have solved rookie sensation Braden Holtby, beating the Washington Capitals, 4-3 to go up two to one, and the St. Louis Blues went up two to one over the San Jose Sharks, winning 4-3.
In other action this evening, The Chicago Blackhawks visit the Phoenix Coyotes, tied at one game apiece, and the Nashville Predators, up two games to one, visit Joe Louis Arena to face the Detroit Red Wings in game four. Tomorrow's games include recent Stanley Cup favorites the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks, both facing first round sweeps at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings, respectively.
Video highlights, a poll, and the complete preview after the jump...
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 the first matchup in Sunrise, 3-2, the Panthers faced the Devils in game two on Sunday night. Longtime playoff hero in waiting Stephen Weiss opened the scoring on an early power play just 23 seconds into the game for his first career postseason goal, with assists from Kris Versteeg (1) and Mikael Samuelsson (3). The Panthers opened up in the second, when Stephen Weiss scored his second goal of the night on a five-on-three power play one minute in with assists from Jason Garrison (1) and Marcel Goc (2). Goc (1) scored one of his own with five minutes remaining in the period with helpers by Brian Campbell (1) and Sean Bergenheim (1). New Jersey stormed back with two quick goals to open the third, first on a Travis Zajac (1) wrister and then on a Ilya Kovalchuk (1) shot. After fending off a furious rush at the end, Tomas Fleischmann (1) potted an empty netter as time expired. Martin Brodeur (1-1, .898, 2.54) took the loss, stopping 20-of-23 shots. Jose Theodore (1-1, .921, 2.52) earned the win by stopping 23 of New Jersey's 25 shots on the night. Afterwards, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen gushed about Weiss' performance:
I think everybody is excited about Weisser. He's a little of the identity of our team, a guy that has been here the longest, a little bit of the face of the franchise from a players' perspective. He wasn't happy with Game 1, with the way it went for him and instead of chirping about it he went out and did something about it.
Devils @ Panthers 04/15/12 (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, 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 - 2
Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Kris Versteeg, - 1
Mikael Samuelsson - 3
Marcel Goc - 2
Brian Campbell, Jason Garrison, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg - 1
Mikael Samuelsson, Marcel Goc - 3
Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss - 2
Brian Campbell, Jason Garrison, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc - plus-1
Dainius Zubrus - 2
10 Devils tied at 1
Bryce Salvador - plus-2
Nine Devils tied at plus-1
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 (1-1, .921, 2.52) is to make another start for the Panthers after stoning the Devils for two of the last six periods.
F Krys Barch, Mike Santorelli, Wojtek Wolski; D Keaton Ellerby
Martin Brodeur (1-1, .898, 2.54) will probably start every Devils game.
Corsi Ratings (season)
Sean Bergenheim - .532
Marcel Goc - .524
Jason Garrison - .523
Scottie Upshall - .519
Brian Campbell - .518
Alexei Ponikarovsky - .556
Marek Zidlicky - .542
Jacob Josefson - .534
Petr Sykora - .527
Patrik Elias - .522
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.
After supposedly proving many know-it-all pundits right (yours truly excluded, of course) after only one game, the Panthers showed up when it counted. The Devils vaunted penalty kill has proved mortal for these Cats, who are 3-of-7 with a man (or two) up. After scoring an early goal and forcing the Devils to play catch up hockey all night Sunday, Florida may have found the key to winning the series. More than just score early and score often, the Panthers are shutting the Devils down defensively. Nobody embodies the change from regular season to postseason more than Ed Jovanovski, who has been around long enough to understand that any time you are in the Stanley Cup playoffs may be your last chance to win it all. Leading both teams with seven hits on Sunday night, Jovocop is a man on a mission. Who wears the "C"? I think it doesn't really matter at this point. There are Cats who are leading this from the front, and as long as they continue to do so, the Panthers stand a better than even chance of winning this series. If the Panthers can earn a split in New Jersey, then all they have to do is win their remaining home games. This series is turning into a beauty, and in my opinion, it can end in no other way than a game seven at BAC. How loud can the crowd get? I think we may find out.
For more on this matchup, check out our opponents at In Lou We Trust. The LBC Game Three Playoff Thread opens at 6:00 ET, rain or shine.