The New Jersey Devils come into the BAC in Sunrise tonight for an 8:30 PM ET matchup with your Florida Panthers. Win or lose, we are done looking at these guys for at least six months. The series sits deadlocked at three, as we've all hoped and feared for two weeks now. To borrow a phrase from ILWT, tonight, we choose death or glory. Each team is 2-1 on their home ice -
- Game One: Devils 3 Panthers 2 in Sunrise
- Game Two: Panthers 4 Devils 2 in Sunrise
- Game Three: Panthers 4 Devils 3 in Newark
- Game Four: Devils 4 Panthers 0 in Newark
- Game Five: Panthers 3 Devils 0 in Sunrise
- Game Six: Devils 3 Panthers 2, OT in Newark
Around the rest of the playoff field, most teams are either headed home already or gearing up for the second round. Ten still stand. The New York Rangers took care of the Ottawa Senators on Monday to force a game seven at MSG, tonight at 7:00. The Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six, and the Washington Capitals surprised the Boston Bruins, winning game seven last night, 2-1 in overtime.
In the Western Conference, I can't help but think that NHL Executives are scratching their heads about what is left of the field. The Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings have all been eliminated. These are the four teams they probably wanted to advance, instead they have mostly Sun Belt teams representing. The St. Louis Blues will host the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes will host the Nashville Predators in Round Two. The Panthers (and the Senators) would no doubt like to extend the trend of upsets in the first round (although IMO, the Panthers being underdogs has always seemed a little bit short-sighted to anyone who really pays attention when making their picks).
That's the state of the NHL, for more on tonight's matchup, click on through....
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. Combined regular season and the playoffs, Florida has posted a 23-10-11 (.648) home record while the Devils have been 25-17-2 (.591) away from The Rock.
After trading home shutouts in games four and five, the Panthers went into Newark hoping to avoid game seven with a win. An unforseen injury to Jose Theodore necessitated the Cats to call up Jacob Markstrom and roll out Scott Clemmensen (1-1, .913, 2.11, before the game). New Jersey got on the board first with just over three minutes remaining in the opening frame, as former Panther Steve Bernier (2) scored on a snapshot assisted by fellow former Panther Ryan Carter (1). Defenseman Peter Harrold (2) also collected an assist on the goal. New Jersey added to their lead just four minutes into the second when Ilya Kovalchuk (3) racked up a power play goal with assists from Travis Zajac (3) and Petr Sykora (1). Some Panthers fans got mad and walked their dog right here, but they should know better by now to never count the Cats out of a game. Kris Versteeg laced a Ver-beauty by Martin Brodeur at the seven minute mark to cut the Devils lead in half, with assists from Stephen Weiss (2) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (1). The equalizer came five minutes later, as beast-mode playoff-version Sean Bergenheim (3) collected a fat Brodeur rebound and tucked it into the corner of the net. Tyson Strachan (1) and Marcel Goc (3) were credited with assists. After a scoreless third period made extra hockey necessary, the Devils finally put the Panthers down when Travis Zajac (3) zipped one by Clemmensen at the six minute mark, assists to Ilya Kovalchuk (2) and Zach Parise (2). Despite facing a total of only 16 shots, Martin Brodeur (3-2, .911, 2.22) came away with the win, stopping 14 of them. Clemmensen (1-2. .920, 2.35) was mostly heroic in defeat, stopping 39-of-42 Devils shots on goal. Bergenheim was all peaches and rainbows afterwards,
We all trust ourselves and trust our team game. [New Jersey] won one-on-one battles and that was the biggest key. They had more shots and many of those came from those lost battles. This series has gone back and forth, and I have no doubt we'll have the energy in Game 7.
Panthers @ Devils 04/24/12 (via NHLVideo)
Florida's 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.
Florida's 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 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.
Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim - 3
Stephen Weiss - 2
Tyson Strachan, Kris Versteeg - plus-2
Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc - plus-1
Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac - 3
Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Steve Bernier - 2
Stephen Gionta - plus-4
Ryan Carter, Stephen Bernier, Bryce Salvador - plus-3
Number one goaltender Jose Theodore missed game six with a knee problem, and is questionable for game seven. Top defensive pairing participant Jason Garrison has missed the last three games. He is considered day-to-day. Bottom six RW Matt Bradley is still recovering from a concussion but has been cleared to skate, his return is possible. Third line RW Jack Skille had shoulder surgery on March 19th and will be back next season.
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 questionable tonight, and if he isn't ready to go, I doubt Jacob Markstrom gets his first ever Stanley Cup playoff experience in game seven (but what a trial by fire that would be). Scott Clemmensen (1-2. .920, 2.35) will get the start if Theo isn't feeling up to it.
Martin Brodeur (3-2, .911, 2.22) is as close as a 100% lock to start as you can get. Johan Hedberg (0-1, .929, 1.67) will play bench.
For more advanced stats, check here.
Panthers: 38-26-18, .573, 94 points, first Southeast Divison, third Eastern Conference, 14th in NHL.
Devils: 48-28-6, .622, 102 points, fourth Atlantic Division, sixth Eastern Conference, 9th in NHL.
I've got a sneaking suspicion that the Devils have played their hand already. Kevin Dineen totally > Peter DeBoer. After Tuesday's disappointing outcome, I did better when I reminded myself that after losing the opener, the Panthers have won a best of three (up 2-1) and a best of five (up 3-2). Bergenheim's elevated play has really given the Panthers an emotional boost in this first (of many in the 2010's) round. The second line feeds off his energy. Marcel Goc is extremely crafty, underlooked, underrated - and totally indispensable. Mikael Samuelsson provides offense - and usually when you both least expect and most need it. The Panthers also have to count on a shutdown performance from old hand Ed Jovanovski (who BTW totally looks like Santa Claus with that beard), and from defensive leader Brian Campbell. The scoring lines need whoever gets the start in net to hold New Jersey to two goals or less. Florida's magic number this season has been and remains three. Three goals or more, we win (30-2-5, plus 3-0 in the playoffs). Two goals or less (8-24-13, plus 0-3 in the postseason), we lose.
For more on this matchup, check out John Fischer's preview over at ILWT. Join us right here for the final ECQF LBC Playoff Game Thread tonight at 7:30 P.M. ET.