Corey Abbott

Playoff Preview

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Eastern Playoff Preview

Monday, April 09, 2012

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

As previously mentioned, the Panthers haven't been in the playoffs since 2000 and that year they just happened to face New Jersey in the opening round.  The Devils dispatched Florida in four straight games and despite the Cats having the higher seed it's hard to imagine this series going much differently.  In another ironic twist, New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer will be back in the Sunshine State for game one just a few days after he was fired by the Panthers a year ago. 

Stephen Weiss will finally get the opportunity to play in his first career NHL playoff game after skating in 637 regular-season contests.  He will be joined by Florida standouts Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg up front, as well as workhorse defenseman Brian Campbell as the team's impact players.  The Devils have been revitalized thanks to the return of captain Zach Parise and they have received great performances from Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson

Both franchises experienced sensational bounce back seasons, but they were polar opposites of one another down the stretch.  Florida backed into the post-season by winning once in their final six games, while the Devils surged to the finish with six consecutive victories.  The Panthers were also buoyed by a league-leading 18 overtime/shootout losses, but that won't do them any favors in the playoffs.  New Jersey wins this series in five.   


Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Scottie Upshall Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky Jerred Smithson - Mike Santorelli - Krys Barch  

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski Keaton Ellerby  

Jose Theodore Scott Clemmensen  


Tomas Fleischmann picked up seven goals and seven assists in 14 games prior to going scoreless in the team's last two regular-season meetings.  Kris Versteeg snapped an eight-game scoreless slide by generating five points in his past five contests to end the year.   


Stephen Weiss has scored one goal and one assist in seven games, while Brian Campbell has also sagged down the stretch with four helpers over his last 10 matches.  Sean Bergenheim didn't pot a goal in any of his final 10 contests of 2011-12 and he contributed just one assist over that time. 


Jack Skille, who underwent shoulder surgery on Mar. 19, isn't slated to play again this season, while the same is expected of Matt Bradley, who hasn't played since Feb. 19 because of a concussion. 

The Panthers can send out role players Jarred Smithson, Mike Santorelli or Kris Barch if they feel the need to alter their lineup, but those players will probably begin the series in the press box.  Jose Theodore may have lost his starting job for the beginning of the post-season, to backup Scott Clemmensen after he struggled mightily down the stretch. 

Florida's penalty kill ranked near the bottom of the league at 25th overall, which should be a concern going into the playoffs.  On the flip side of the equation, their power play was the seventh best in the NHL.   


Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier Cam Janssen - Stephen Gionta  

Andy Greene-Mark Fayne Bryce Salvador-Marek Zidlicky Anton Volchenkov-Peter Harrold Adam Larsson  

Martin Brodeur Johan Hedberg  


Ilya Kovalchuk has generated seven goals and five assists in his last 11 games going into the playoffs, while Zach Parise has accounted for three goals and four helpers in eight contests.  Patrik Elias capped off 2011-12 with a five-game point streak that saw him pick up eight points.   Johan Hedberg will provide the Devils with an excellent safety net for Martin Brodeur in the postseason.  Hedberg rounded out the season with four straight victories and allowed only two goals over that time.  He hasn't lost in regulation is his past seven outings (6-0-1). 


Rookie forward Adam Henrique has one goal in his last 25 games.  He collected 12 assists during that period, but his goal slump halted him at 16 markers on the year.  Travis Zajac is still trying to find his game after dealing with an Achilles tendon issue throughout the 2011-12 campaign.  He posted one goal and two assists in seven matches after he returned in late March during his second comeback of the year.  Marek Zidlicky was acquired from Minnesota to add some offensive punch to the Devils' blueline, but he supplied the team with just two goals and six helpers in 22 games. 


Anton Volchenkov (illness) and David Clarkson (lower body) are expected to be alright to play in the opening contest of the playoffs after being rested down the stretch.  Jacob Josefson sustained a non-displaced fracture of his wrist on Apr. 3 and is projected to miss four-to-six weeks.  Henrik Tallinder has been sidelined since Jan. 17 with a blood clot in his leg and he is considered doubtful to play at all in the post-season. 

With Volchenkov slated to be back in the lineup for Game 1 it will be interesting to see of coach Dineen decides to scratch rookie Adam Larsson.  The fourth line of the Devils could also see some tinkering going into the playoff opener. 

New Jersey set a post-expansion NHL record in penalty kill efficiency this past season with an 89.58 percent success rate.  The previous mark was held by the Dallas Stars in 1999-2000 when they posted a rating of 89.25 percent.   The Devils top-ranked penalty kill also scored a league-leading 15 shorthanded goals.  New Jersey's power play finished in the 14th overall spot.                                                 

Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
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