Qtr. Final Game 2 Preview: Devils vs. Panthers: Lessons Learned.

April 13, 2012; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) blocks the shot from New Jersey Devils left wing Zach Parise (9) during the third period in game one of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarter finals at BankAtlantic Center. New Jersey defeated Florida 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Tonight the Florida Panthers hope to even up their first round series at home against the New Jersey Devils after an opening night loss.  If you’re a history buff then know this.  When the Devils and Marty Brodeur win the first two games of any playoff series they are a perfect 10.  The Panthers can ill afford to spot the Devils another three goal lead, as Peter DeBoer will put the clamps on again should that happen.

The Panthers hopefully learned a lesson or two about Friday night’s game.  A quick start is imperative so that Florida controls the game and now New Jersey.  As we know the first period saw the Devils take 26 shots on Jose Theodore, and while many were quick to want the veteran netminder pulled, the score could easily have been 5-0.  The defence must play better in front of Theo, and the defence must be more physical.  Jose admitted after the game that it was tough at times:

“My cardio was pumping and it was hard to catch up at times,” Theodore said. “You didn’t really have time because they kept coming and coming. It’s tough physically. But you prepare all year for games like that, the playoffs. Hopefully this is the last time we face 26 shots as a team.”

Of the six defencemen who dressed, Erik Gudbranson looked nothing like a first year player who was appearing in his first ever NHL playoff game, and was the most consistent of the bunch.  He was just physical enough, made some good passes, used his body, and most importantly he didn’t panic.  The veterans ought to feed off his enthusiasm for tonight’s matchup.  While defensively Florida limited New Jersey’s scoring chances for the remainder of the game, they will have to be much tighter for the full 60 minutes tonight.

Brian Campbell a Stanley Cup champion just two seasons ago also realizes what’s at stake here and the improtance of splitting the series:

”We’ve got to split here,” Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said. ”That’s what we’ve got to look at right now. We know what we have to do. We know what areas we need to improve on. So we’ll look at that. But definitely, we have to grab Game 2.”

The two teams are looking at this game from different angles, and it’s going to be about who wants it bad enough.  Florida knows that it can’t afford to go down two games to none heading back to Jersey, and the Devils would love to go back home with a two games to none lead, looking for a sweep on their ice.  This game has intensity written all over it, and the Panthers must make sure they’re prepared for it.
If you throw the first period out of Friday’s game, the Panthers played well enough to win the rest of the way, but that’s not good enough.  In the post season, the goals are harder to score, the saves are more difficult to make, and the expectations are higher.  The way I see it the Panthers will need to score first and do it early.  Giving the Devils a lead will only energize them and take the Panthers and the crowd out of the game.
With the FlashMob Line back together, Kris Versteeg spent the night hustling, and creating scoring chances.  It was good to see the extra effort on his wrap around goal, and he seemed to be looking like the Versteeg of old.  Tomas Flesichmann had a few chances himself and will need to maintain his steady play.  Flash was given the day off of practice yesterday, and will be ready to go tonight.  As for Stephen Weiss, that was not a good first NHL playoff game for him by any means.  He’s going to have to play with more energy, and be more effective for the Panthers to have success.  I don’t know if Weiss has another gear, but if he does he’s going to have to find it, and quick.
Should Florida find themselves getting “trapped” by New Jersey, they’ll need to revert to a dump and chase style with a heavy forecheck deep in the Devils end.  The Panthers will need to make the Devils defencemen go after the puck in their zone, while keeping it away from Brodeur.  If New Jersey gets a lead, you’ll likely see the middle of the ice clogged up, giving Florida little room to maneuver.  If the Panthers can keep their feet moving, skate north-south, and apply heavy pressure on Brodeur they can have success.  Marty had given up some juicy rebounds that were laying in the crease, however more often than not, there wasn’t a Panthers in the area to pounce on the puck.  That too needs to change.
On a positive note, both Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise were held off the scoresheet even though they combinded for eight shots on goal.  In addition, sharp shooter Petr Sykora had one shot, and could have scored on it, but if my meomory is right, he missed the net on a point blank chance.  My point here is that the Devils have scoring weapons and we can’t expect to stop all of them, but must put ourselves in a position to at least limit their chances.
If the Panthers are better prepared tonight and get off to a good start, they can build some confidence.  There’s no reason not to be able to play “with” the Devils.  As always, everything must go right, and our best players need to be our best players.  The jump that Sean Bergenheim and his linemates had Friday night ought to carry over for this game.  Bergenheim seems to thrive in the playoffs, and he had a few chances that if he gets again, you have the feeling that he’s not going to miss.
Keys to the game:
* The Panther’s’ defence must keep the crease clear, and give Theodore a chance to see the puck.
* The Panther’s defence must be more physical and win the battles.
* Stay out of the penalty box.
* Plant a forward in front of Brodeur to create havoc, as well as pick up rebounds.
* Get off to a fast start, grap the early lead, and don’t let up.
Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Topics: Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jose Theodore, Kris Versteeg, Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, Peter Deboer, Stephen Weiss

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