Devils 2013 Schedule Preview: Florida Panthers
With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We stay in the Southeast Division today for a look at the Florida Panthers.
You could the Florida Panthers’ 2011-12 season The Surprise of Sunrise.
No one figured the Panthers would contend for a playoff spot, nevertheless a division title. With rookie coach Kevin Dineen behind the bench, and a lineup featuring a collection of interesting pieces to strengthen the roster. Florida burst out of the gate, led by the trio of Kris Versteeg, Thomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss. Brian Campbell, who waived his no trade clause to come to the perennial sub-.500 club, collected 53 points along the blue line. They held off the Washington Capitals late season charge, securing the organization’s first division title and first postseason trip since 2000.
They gave New Jersey their best shot, bowing out in a seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. With a pool of young players ready to make an impact, and the core largely intact from a season ago, the Panthers may once again be a competitive team in the Southeast Division.
New Jersey went 2-2-0 against Florida last season, winning one road and one home game. The teams were evenly matched throughout, with the Devils outscoring the Panthers 12-11 during the four-game season series. The two teams were so evenly matched, I opined that, despite a late season swoon, the Panthers would be a tough draw for New Jersey.
Florida proved me right. They played the Devils tight throughout their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, almost pulling off the first-round upset. Twice they took the ice with a chance to eliminate New Jersey (Games 6 and 7), and scored 17 goal over the seven-game series. It took a tremendous effort from Martin Brodeur and the Devils to shut down the Panthers, and eventually they dispatched the Southeast Division champs.
November 21, 2011: Florida – 4, New Jersey – 3 @ Bank Atlantic Center
New Jersey jumped all over Florida in the first period of the first meeting of the season. Ilya Kovalchuk, Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus all scored in the opening frame, staking the Devils to a seemingly insurmountable three-goal lead. But Florida would chip into the lead. Versteeg scored twice in the second period, cutting the deficit to 3-2. The Panthers completed the comeback in the final frame, tying the game on a shorthanded goal from Weiss. With New Jersey on their heels, Florida scored their fourth unanswered goal of the night, a Fleischmann even-strength goal that stood as the game-winner.
Brodeur stopped 32 of 36 shots in the loss. After a tough first period, Theodore rebounded to make 22 saves in the win.
December 13, 2011: New Jersey – 3, Florida – 2 (SO)@ Bank Atlantic Center
The second meeting was a much tighter contest. Versteeg helped Florida build a 2-0 lead, netting an even-strength goal in the first period and scoring a shorthanded tally in the middle frame. Patrik Elias put the Devils on board, cutting the lead to one after 40 minutes. Zach Parise tied the game in the third period, and the score remained 2-2 after regulation and overtime. Kovalchuk and Elias beat Theodore in the shootout, and Brodeur put up a goose egg to give New Jersey it’s first win against the Panthers.
January 6, 2012: New Jersey – 5, Florida – 2 @ Prudential Center
The Devils recorded their largest margin of victory in the season series. The teams traded goals in the first, with Adam Henrique and Mikael Samuelsson tying the teams, 1-1, after the first period. Krys Barch and Elias continued the scoring duel, and the two remained tied after two periods. New Jersey exploded for three goals in the final frame, with Kovalchuk netting two of the three scores.
Johan Hedberg stopped 22 shots in the win. Jacob Markstrom finished with 24 shots in the loss.
February 2, 2012: Florida – 3, New Jersey – 1 @ Prudential Center
Florida skated away with the win in the finale of the season series. Steve Bernier scored the first goal of the game just 1:39 into the first period. Florida responded, with Sean Bergenheim, Versteeg and Samuelsson scoring three straight unanswered goals. Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves in the win. Brodeur recorded 17 saves in the loss.
Playoffs – Eastern Conference Quaterfinals
Game 1: New Jersey – 3, Florida – 2 @ Bank Atlantic Center
Much like the first time the teams met during the regular season, New Jersey jumped out to a big lead early in the game. Elias, Zubrus and Ryan Carter scored first period goals, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead. Just like that first game, New Jersey tried to give the lead away. Bergenheim and Versteeg found the back of the net in the second period, cutting the Devils advantage to 3-2. Brodeur shut the door in the third period, stopping 24 overall shots, and the Devils took the opening game of the series. Theodore played well, making 35 saves.
Game 2: Florida – 4, New Jersey – 2 @ Bank Atlantic Center
Florida stormed back in Game 2, with Weiss scoring a powerplay goal just 23 seconds into the first period. Weiss added another tally in the second period, and Marcel Goc tallied his first of the series to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead after two periods. Travis Zajac and Kovalchuk brought the Devils to within one, but the late charge couldn’t bring them all the way back. Fleischmann finished off the victory with an empty-net goal to send the series to New Jersey tied, 1-1.
Game 3: Florida – 4, New Jersey – 3 @ Prudential Center
The playoff home opener provided a lot of early fireworks for the Devils and their fans. Parise opened the scoring just 33 seconds into the game, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead. Stephen Gionta and Elias followed, opening a 3-0 lead in just over six minutes and chasing Theodore to the bench. That would be the high point for New Jersey.
Just like in Game 1, the Panthers chipped away at the big deficit. Bergenheim and Jason Garrison scored powerplay goals, bringing the score to 3-2 at the end of the first period. Mike Weaver tied the game in the second period, chasing Brodeur from the game. Florida would score it’s fourth – and final – unanswered goal of the night on yet another powerplay tally, this from Campbell. It marked the third time during the season New Jersey blew a three goal lead to the Panthers, and it put New Jersey down, 2-1, in the series.
Hedberg stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief, allowing the game-winning goal. Clemmensen blanked New Jersey, making 19 saves.
Game 4: New Jersey – 4, Florida – 0 @ Prudential Center
The Devils responded in a big way in Game 4, shutting out the Panthers to tie the series, 2-2. Parise, Bernier, Zajac and Kovalchuk all scored for New Jersey, and Brodeur stopped 26 shots. Clemmensen, who played well in relief in Game 3, stopped 23 shots.
Game 5: Florida – 3, New Jersey – 0 @ Bank Atlantic Center
Back on home ice, Florida flipped the script, blanking the Devils in Game 5. Versteeg, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky supplied all the offense the Panthers needed. Theodore was perfect, stopping 30 shots to push New Jersey to the brink of elimination. Brodeur made 30 saves in the loss.
Game 6: New Jersey – 3, Florida – 2 (OT) @ Prudential Center
New Jersey found their offense on home ice, getting the win to send the series to a seventh game. Bernier kicked off the scoring, ending the Devils scoreless streak in the first period. Kovalchuk struck in the second period, putting the Devils ahead 2-0. Florida battled back, as they had all series, tying the game on goals from Versteeg and Bergenheim. That score would stand until overtime, when Travis Zajac put home the game-winning goal. Clemmensen stopped 39 of 42 shots in the loss, and Brodeur skated away with 14 saves in the win.
Game 7: New Jersey – 3, Florida – 2 (2OT) @ Prudential Center
The unexpected Game 7 lived up to the hype. For the fourth time in the series, New Jersey jumped out to lead, with both Henrique and Gionta scoring for New Jersey. That gave the Devils a 2-0 advantage heading into the final period. But it wouldn’t last, as Florida once again roared back, with powerplay goals from Weiss and Goc tying the game. The goalies took over from there, with Brodeur and Theodore standing toe-to-toe throughout a busy first overtime period. The two teams combined for 22 shots, but went into the locker room still deadlocked.
Henrique cemented his importance with New Jersey in the second overtime. The rookie recorded one of his many big playoff moments, scoring the game-winning and series-clinching goal at the 3:47 mark of the second overtime.
This Season’s Matchup
Florida stayed relatively quiet in free agency this offseason, making minor moves to bolster an offense ranked near the bottom of the league. The team scored just 203 goals last season, the second-lowest among playoff teams.
The top trio of Versteeg, Fleischmann and Weiss will once again be the team’s main source of offense. They combine for 70 goals and 172 points, becoming one of the most successful lines in franchise history. Versteeg was rewarded with a four-year, $17.6 million contract.
The biggest addition may be the arrival of Jonathan Huberdeau. The third overall pick from the 2011 draft lit up the QMJHL last season, with 30 goals and 72 points in just 37 games. Tallon went low-risk, high-reward in signing Peter Mueller to a contract. When healthy, he can be a consistent point producer.
On the back end, the team expects a follow-up performance from Campbell. Not only did he record a career-high in points, he also became the first defenseman since Red Kelly in 1954 to win a Lady Byng Trophy. He also led all NHL players in average time on ice and became an All-Star for the first time in his career.
The team lost Garrison to Vancouver (six-years, $27.6 million), eliminating one of the biggest threats on the powerplay. Tallon signed Filip Kuba (two-years, $8 million) to help replace him, but he’s recorded double-digit goals just once in his career. Eric Gudbranson will miss time at the beginning of the season with an injury, one which landed him on the suspended list. Dmitry Kulikov remains in the KHL, his contract status uncertain. They finished 12th in goals-against last season, allowing 2.63 goals per game.
Both Theodore and Clemmensen return, with Markstrom waiting in the wings. But with the never-ending rumors of Roberto Luongo returning to Florida, the goalie situation is far from settled.
With the same roster, and a short season, there’s no reason why the Panthers can’t contend for another division title. New Jersey and Florida face off three times this season. They kick off the short series in March, with two games in seven days. They end their season series in April.
Versteeg recorded 11 points (8g, 3a) against New Jersey last season. He scored one of the two shorthanded goals Florida recorded against New Jersey during the regular season.
During the regular season, Versteeg and Weiss combined for 11 of the team’s 29 points. That accounted for about 38 percent of the team’s offense.
Despite playing just 15 games during the regular season, Zajac found his legs in the opening round of the playoffs. He led New Jersey with six points (3g,3a) against Florida in the first round.
Brodeur and Clemmensen didn’t just post gaudy numbers in net. The two combined for three assists during the opening round of the playoffs.