The Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils will continue to duke it out in Game 6 of their best-of-seven-game NHL playoff series on Tuesday April 24 in New Jersey. The Cats and the Devils have gone back and forth in this series. At the moment things look to be going the Panthers' way, they lead the series 3-2 but in the playoffs no one's future is assured.
Home Ice Advantage
The Devils don't seem to have a clear advantage on home ice. The teams have played two games in New Jersey this post-season and the Cats were able to take one of those games with a dramatic comeback in Game 3 on April 17. The last game that was played in New Jersey was a big win for the home team. On April 19 in Game 4 the Devils' goaltender Martin Brodeur was able to shutout the Cats in a 4-0 final. The Panthers have proven that they can win in New Jersey but in lieu of Brodeur's last performance there and the fact that that Game 6 could very well be the last game in the series, I expect the fans in Jersey to be in full throat on Tuesday night.
As of April 23 the Panthers' defensemen Jason Garrison and Keaton Ellerby are uncertain to start Game 6. Garrison went down with a lower body injury in Game 3 and Ellerby, who was Garrison's replacement, went down in Game 4. The Cats have called up Tyson Strachan from the San Antonio Rampage to fill the gap for now. Strachan is no stranger to the Panthers lineup this year. He was in the Cats' lineup for most of February due to injuries. Strachan is an adequate fit but it's difficult to replace Garrison, who placed third in the NHL in the regular season in goals by a defenseman. Garrison is listed day-to-day and may have a chance to go in Game 6.
Keys to the Game
It would be nice to see the Cats get a couple of early goals to take the home crowd out of the game. In order to do that the Panthers have to play smart hockey and limit their penalties. The Cats ranked toward the bottom of the table in penalty kill percentage in the regular season. In order for them to stay in the game they have to understand their weakness and not allow the Devils to exploit that. In contrast to their poor penalty killing, the Cats ranked seventh in the NHL in power play goals in the regular season. If they can limit their own penalty time and allow the Devils to commit a few penalties, they stand a great chance of taking the series in Game 6.
I would love to see the Panthers win this series at home but what I would love even more is for them to win this series. The Cats haven't advanced past the first round of the NHL playoffs since 1996, when they went on to the Stanley Cup finals. I would love to be in Sunrise to watch the boys celebrate the victory but I don't think any Panthers fans would be upset if they were able to close out the series on Tuesday in New Jersey.
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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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