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.
The Matchup: The New York Rangers (6-5-1) face off against the New Jersey Devils (4-9-1) tonight at the Prudential Center. This is the second of six meetings between the two teams this season. The Rangers currently lead the season series, 1-0-0.
The Last Rangers Game: The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Rangers, 4-1, last night in Philadelphia. Brandon Dubinsky broke a scoreless tie in the second period, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a powerplay goal at 1:53 of the period. Then the Flyers took control, scoring four straight goals to take the 4-1 lead.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-3, Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago. The Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the wheels came off. Martin Brodeur left with an elbow injury after being hit by a shot. Colin White deflected a Brian Campbell shot into his own net, cutting the Devils lead in half. Fernando Pisani tied the game in the third period, scoring a powerplay goal at 3:42 of the period. The Devils pulled ahead on a Brad Mills goal, the first of his career. Two empty-net goals sealed the win for New Jersey.
The Last Rangers – Devils Game: The Rangers defeated the Devils, 3-1, on October 24 at MSG. Michael Rosival broke a scoreless tie in the second, putting the Rangers ahead, 1-0, at 1:26 of the period. Ryan Callahan extended the lead to 2-0 with a powerplay tally at 12:22 of the period. Ilya Kovalchuk cut the deficit in half, putting the Devils on the board at 14:08 of the third period. Dubinsky put home an empty-netter at 19:59 to clinch the victory.
For the full recap of the last game, read our game recap.
The A-Train Returns: Anton Volchenkov, who hasn’t played since October 9, will return to the lineup tonight. Volchenkov left during the Devils 7-2 loss to the Washington Capitals after taking a shot in the face. He broke his nose, but a stiff neck kept him out for the extended period of time. Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello believes it’ll help to settle the Devils defense.
“Whenever you get a veteran back whose size and strength is one of the reasons we acquired him, it certainly helps take the pressure off the other veteran players who are playing with young players and perhaps trying to do too much,” Lamoriello said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils played one of their most complete games of the season Wednesday night. But that’s in the past. The Devils haven’t strung together two wins in a row this season, so it’s not something that will come easy. The Rangers, especially with Henrik Lundqvist in net, play well against the Devils. And with the unfortunate influx of Rangers fans to Prudential Center, these games always feel like neutral site matchups.
Without Brodeur in net, the Devils need to play better defensively tonight. They played pretty well against the Blackhawks in their own zone, but the second period brought great chances and, of course, goals. Johan Hedberg played well in relief, but he’s going to need help. The defensemen need to make an intelligent first pass and limit the turnovers. With Volchenkov back, the Devils have that big, physical presence in front of the net, so I’d expect the shots to drop and the hits to rise.
The Devils need to pressure the Rangers defense from the opening faceoff to the end of the game. If New Jersey lets Lundqvist get comfortable, he’s going to dominate them. Keep the pressure on, and put shots toward the net. The offense doesn’t have to be fancy or Top-10 play worthy. Just do enough to put the puck in the back of the net.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus.