It’s finally Friday and the Devils and Panthers will finally get their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal s matchup underway tonight. This is it!! This is what we’ve been waiting an entire year for. The Devils enter tonight’s game as the hottest team to close out the regular season having won their final 6 games but that was last week. THIS is a whole different ballgame. Four quick loses and you are packing up for a long summer.
The Devils finished the regular season in 6th place and the Panthers finished in 3rd by having won the Southeast Division on the final day of the regular season. The Devils had 10 more wins than Florida during the regular season so on paper this matchup looks to favor NJ but this is playoff hockey, you never know what you are going to get.
Let’s get to it!!
Season Series Matchup
The Panthers won the season series over the Devils by going 2-1-1. The Devils outscored Florida 12-11 in those 4 games, so as you can see, these two teams appear to be very even. One of the most frustrating moments this season came against Florida, in Florida when the Devils squandered a 3-0 first period lead and lost to the Panthers 4-3 in regulation back on November 21st.
The Big Story Lines:
- Peter DeBoer, who spent 3 seasons as the Panthers coach was fired last summer by Florida before NJ picked him up to the new Devils head coach. Who would have thought back then that DeBoer’s first playoff appearance in the NHL would come against that Florida team that just let him go?
- The Devils return to the playoffs after a rare miss last season but haven’t have playoff success in recent years. Can they right the ship? Can they be the dark horse that everyone is predicting them to be?
- This is the first trip to the post-season for Florida since the 1999-2000 season when they were swept out of the first round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.
What We Will Be Watching For In This Series
- I already mentioned the lack of success over the recent years when it comes to the playoffs. We all know Parise’s contract is up very soon so the Devils need to find a way to make a run. Show Zach that we are building something here and that he is an important piece and should he stay, there is no reason to think a Stanley Cup is not a possibility.
- After 10 NHL seasons, 406 regular-season career goals, nine straight 30-goal years and two world championships with Russia, there is something missing from Ilya Kovalchuk's resume, an appearance in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s time to change that.
- For the first time in my life, I’m not questioning if the Devils offense can get the job done but rather can the defense get the job done. The defense did a good job in the final 10 games of the season so let’s hope that continues.
What I Will Be Watching For Tonight
- The Panthers have a doozy of a first line but that line is responsible for 40% of their goals this season which means the Panthers aren’t a very deep team. NJ is a deeper team and needs to use that to their advantage.
- Ex-Devil Scott Clemmensen is a good goalie; we know that first hand but NJ will get their chances. The trick is making them count.
- Getting the lead is important against the Panthers because they are the type of team that “turtles” once they get the lead which can be very tough to overcome. On top of that, an early lead should take the crowd out of it.
- How do the Devils handle the Florida defense? They have some very good guys on the blue line which will make it difficult for NJ at times.
- Usually it’s a guy name Weiss that I fear when we play Florida but the this season, NJ did a good job keeping Weiss and Fleichmann from killing us but that just gave Kris Versteeg to opportunity to be a thorn in our side. The Devils need to keep all three quiet, which is a big task to ask.
And Finally... Let's Get It Going!!!