On Saturday night for Game 5, the Florida Panthers knew that a win would put them in the driver’s seat and just 1 game away from winning the series. They came out strong and it was obvious right from the start they were playing well.
Veterans like Ed Jovanovski and John Madden have been stepping up not only on the ice but off as well helping our younger players like Erik Gudbranson, Shawn Matthias and Dmitry Kulikov in their first playoff experiences. Erik Gudbranson, in his first playoff series in his rookie year, has been playing like he has been in a playoff situation before. He has been keeping his game physical as usual often throwing hits on Zack Parise and battling it out with David Clarkson. He has been playing his best hockey at the right time of year. I’m confident in saying Gudbranson will be a big part of the Florida Panthers future. Another guy that showed up big on Saturday was Shawn Matthias. He worked hard winning battles for the puck, at one point holding and battling for the puck for about 10 seconds with a Devils player. His line has played great and was typified when Kris Versteeg stole the puck from Martin Brodeur feeding Upshall for an empty netter.
All of our players have been very positive about this series and it is wonderful to hear. We have heard some less than positive comments from New Jersey after hundreds of rats hit the ice after the Panthers had won Game 5 with one claiming New Jersey is a “better team.” Captain Zach Parise said the shutout on Saturday was a result of the Devils’ problems more than Theodore’s work.
“As far as [Theodore is] concerned, we didn’t challenge him enough. He got real lucky on a lot of them.”
It seems to me that what the Devils thought would be an easy task is proving to be a challenge. Our players haven’t said one negative thing about New Jersey because there is nothing negative to say. Both teams are extremely talented and have some great players. The Panthers have carried themselves with class and style during the series and refrained from taking “jabs” or making disparaging comments about the Devils. Perhaps it’s a testament to Coach Dineen who always gives credit to every team where it is due.
Regardless of Zach Parise’s silly comments, I think Jose Theodore has played great and as Scottie Upshall said “he’s our MVP” and has been one of the main reasons the Panthers have gotten this far. All of the players have such high praise for Theodore and never feel he’s the reason for a loss. He has often received the famous “belt” the players distribute to the best player after a win because of his great play. Not only did Jose make some great saves on Saturday, the defense also really stepped up in making sure Theodore didn’t face too many shots and getting to rebounds.
The Devils are going to come out flying tonight and the Panthers will have to play with composure during the onslaught. So far they have come together as a team and everyone is stepping up to the plate proving they are in it to win it. If they play tonight like they did on Saturday, they could close it out with style.
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