The Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils will meet in South Florida on April 21 for a decisive game in their best-of-seven game NHL playoff series. The teams are tied at two games a piece and the clock is ticking down.
The Panthers are coming fresh off a brutal 4-0 loss to the Devils on April 19 in New Jersey. The Devils' morale may be flying high but people quickly forget that the Cats were able to put the Devils' goaltender Martin Brodeur on the bench on April 17 in Game 3 when Brodeur allowed three goals on just twelve shots. To be fair, Jose Theodore was also benched that same game after allowing three goals on six shots.
In the NHL playoffs it's all about who can get hot at the right time. I wouldn't call the Cats a hot team right now but they have been able to crack the façade of Brodeur and expose some weaknesses in the Devils.
Keys to Victory
Penalty minutes seem to be playing an important role for the Cats in this series. The Panthers lost Game 1 and Game 4, in both of those outing the Cats had 12 penalty minutes in the game. That's way too many penalty minutes to take for a team that ranked second to last in the NHL in penalty killing in the regular season. In order to win, the Panthers have to recognize their own weaknesses and play clean smart hockey.
The Cats also have to play good defensive hockey in the neutral zone and develop a good fore check. It's an exhausting task for the defensemen to take the brunt of the work. The Panthers lost Game 1 and allowed the Devils to take 38 shots on Jose Theodore. I was at the Bank America Center for that game and couldn't believe my eyes as the Devils' shot count steadily increased thought the game. In Game 4 the Cats allowed 27 shots on goal. That's a vast improvement from Game 1 but probably still a few too many. In both of the Panthers' victories in this series, they have allowed the Devils less than 26 shots on goal.
The Panthers' Goaltending
The Cats' starter Jose Theodore had a tough time at it in Game 3. Coach Kevil Dineen pulled Theo in Game 3 and backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen took the reigns and kept they game tight as the Panthers orchestrated a comeback win. Clemmensen got the call to start Game 4 and was unimpressive. Kevin Dineen hasn't said who will start Game 5 but I have to think he'll go with Theo. Clemmensen is a great backup but Theo is a big reason the Cats are in the playoffs to begin with. Hopefully he will be able to shake off the shellshock of Game 3 and be the brick wall that the Panthers need between the pipes.
Saturday April 21: Florida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils, 6:30 pm EDT, NHLN and TSN.
Tuesday April 24: Florida Panthers @ New Jersey Devils, TBA.
Thursday April 26 (if needed): Florida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils, TBA.
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Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein
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