Stanley Cup Qtr. Final Game 7. Devils vs. Panthers: No Retreat, No Surrender.



It seems that whenever the Florida Panthers have had their backs against the wall this season they respond by playing a complete game of hockey.  Void of mistakes, high energy, and 60 solid minutes of continual determination.  As we enter game seven tonight here in South Florida, the Florida Panthers must do exactly that, or face elimination.  If however the Panthers can turn the tide from their overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, it will be the first post season series win in 16 years.  Make no mistake, this game is do or die, and for all intent and purposes is our Stanley Cup Game 7.  Or at least we need to treat it that way.

In order to be victorious the Panthers will need to play a game that more resembles their game five performance at home this past Saturday which saw them shutout the Devils 3-0.  A game in which Jose Theodore had another spectacular night, following a game which saw him pulled after the Devils scored three very early first period goals in game three.  Theodore did not play in game six, as Scott Clemmensen filled in while Theodore was held out of the lineup with an injury.  Coach Kevin Dineen has indicated that if Jose is ready, he’ll be getting the start.  Theodore himself would like to play as well:

"”These are the kind of games you want to be part of. I mean, everybody when you’re a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that it’s Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. So obviously it’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win.”"

When this team has been faced with adversity, they have always responded seeming as though they have nine lives.  We must hope that the well hasn’t run dry one more time.  In order to advance to the next round, Florida is going to have to play one of it’s best games of the season, and not replicate some of what we saw on Tuesday.  At times the Panthers were timid.  They seemed to have been holding back waiting for New Jersey to make a mistake.  They also appeared to just want to survive at times, especially the first period, and the wanning minutes of regualtion.  Analyst Jeremy Roenick commented on NBC that many times when he played coach’s would say, let’s play a simple game in the first, bore them to death and take the crowd out of it.  I’m not a huge fan of that when the series is this close.  Maybe in the first or second road game, but when you have a chance to win game four, you have to go for it right away.

Game six was lost because the Panthers played a cautious game, and because of  two mistakes in overtime that led the winning goal.  Mike Weaver pinched in just inside the Devils blue line as he and Travis Zajac were along the wall.  Zajac came away with the puck and with Weaver’s partner Dmitry Kulikov skating back as the sole defencemen along with another Panther forward, Kulikov made mistake number two when he went after the other Jersey forward coming down the lane while Zajac had a free and open shot which he fired past Clemmensen for the win.  Lesson learned?  We hope.

To win tonight, Florida can do nothing else but attack the Devils and throw everything including the kitchen sink at goaltender Martin Brodeur.  Brodeur was shaky in game six as he seemed to fight the puck, although he appeared to be strong late in the third as well as in overtime.  But see, when you only face 16 total shots, Marty doesn’t have to be spectacular.  For most of his career with the Devils he hasn’t had to face much rubber, making his life simple.  The Panthers need to change that, create chaos, traffic, and have a net presence in front of the veteran goalie. 

Scott Clemmensen meanwhile faced 42 shots and though he did give up three goals, he was solid enough to have earned a victory had the Panthers applied themselves with more determination.  There may have been one goal that Clemmensen would like to have  back, but the Panthers lost Tuesday from lack of an offensive attack.  Plain and simple. 

Tonight must be different.  Tonight there can be no holding  back, and no waiting for a New Jersey mistake.  The Panthers must take the play to the Devils and force them to fail.  The Panthers need to dictate the pace of the game early, and be the aggressor.  Line matchups are also key, and in my personal opinion, I feel that we need to keep the FlashMob line away from the Parise line.  I’d rather see us try to contain them and have Vertseeg, Weiss and Flash concentrate on creating offence.  We have the last line change tonight, and that’s how I’d play it.

John Madden a veteran who has won three Stanley Cups put tonight’s game seven in perfect perspective:

"”Play to win. Don’t play to lose,” Madden said when asked what advice he’d give to Game 7 first-timers. ”Don’t go out there clenching your sticks thinking about making a mistake. Just go out there and want to be the guy who makes a difference in every shift.”"

The fourth win in any series is always the toughest to win.  For some Panther players this game seven is the first of their career, but for others, it just another of many.  There is no tomorrow, and the Panthers must play that way.  The Devils will as well, and that’s what makes game sevens so special.    I steal this quote again from a former NHL coach, and tonight it rings true:

"“Playing tense is debilitating.  Playing with intensity is energizing”."

We’ve come a long way, and have every right to be here tonight.  There’s no reason the season can’t continue.  A victory proves that.

"Like soldiers in the winters night with a vow to defendNo retreat, believe me, no surrender"

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.