They say that the fourth and final game of any series is always the toughest to win, and tonight the New Jersey Devils will do their best to make it so. With the Florida Panthers who have a three games to two lead heading into the “Rock” for a chance to close the series out, the only thing that should be on their minds is to stay in control. The story for Florida has been the same all season long. Whether their backs have been against the wall, or the pundits have predicted them to tumble, one thing that Florida has shown is resiliency, and push back at the right times, while staying in character. This evening, they’ll need to do it at least one more time.
Should the Panthers win, it will be a moment in team history to savor. Beating former coach Peter DeBoer is one thing, but beating future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will be another. While Kevin Dineen may not be a front runner for the Jack Adams Award for best coach of the year, he’s certainly among the one’s that should be on the list, and it’s because of his direction, and because of his ability to make the right choices at the right times, the Panthers find themselves where they are tonight.
There have been many times like this past Saturday night where the Panthers needed a perfect performance to come out victorious, and tonight will not be any different. You can shake your head in disbelief, or you can say “I told you so”, but when this team is able to click on all cylinders, they can hang with the best.
Florida tonight has to play the same way as they have in the previous 82 regular season games, and the five games in these playoffs…..get a fast start, stay out of trouble, and get an early lead. Being the visitor, the crowd in Jersey may be a factor, and the Panthers will do themselves a huge favor by taking control early, and being the aggressor. They’ll also have to not only match, but show more desperation than New Jersey who faces elimination with this game. Kevin Dineen spoke about the previous games and how they’ve started:
“It’s the same thing every game of this series,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “The tempo always seems to be set right at the start of the game. So I would expect nothing less than that desperation mode for a team that’s down by one and also wants to win the series. It’s two clubs that will be colliding very early in the game.”
As good as the Panthers played on Saturday, they’re going to need a repeat performance from all 18 skaters, and a solid job in the nets as well to finish off what should be a desperate Devils team. Ilya Kovalchuk who’s never won a playoff series before is being questioned about his health. A lower body injury (groin?) which he’s denying. Kovy has only 2 goals in five games, and while people may expect more from the sharp shooter, it could be a reflection of the style of play that DeBoer wants them to follow. Read into this what you want:
“It’s not an individual sport,” said Kovalchuk, the Devils’ leading scorer in the regular season. “The worst thing I can do is try to do everything by myself. It has never worked out. I have tried it a lot of times in the past when I was frustrated and did things I shouldn’t do. That’s when you get yourself and the team in trouble.
“We’re a great team all year long and we just have to do what the coaches say.”
Spoken like someone who’s on a short leash dontcha think? In any event, Kovalchuk isn’t the only one under pressure. Martin Brodeur could be faced with a very tough decision about his future if the Devils don’t pull this series out. While he’s not going to discuss it now, you know he’s going to be just as strong tonight as he was on Saturday. Honestly if not for the strong game played by Jose Theodore, this series could be reversed with the Panthers being the one’s facing elimination.
Things to do:
* Come out fast and furious and generate offence right away.
* Pressure the Devils defence and continue making them play the puck in their zone.
* Create traffic in front of Brodeur. He can’t stop what he can’t see. We need constant “net presence”.
* Stay out of the penalty box, and don’t make any bad line changes.
* Don’t be cute. Play lunch bucket hockey. North and south, not east and west.
* Control the emotions, and stay in character. That’s what got you here.
* Bump Kovalchuk, Parise, Sykora and Elias every chance you get.
* Leave it all on the ice. There is no tomorrow.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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