SUNRISE, Fla. – Going down 3-0 in a playoff game against Martin Brodeur is not a great idea.
Going down 2-0 in a playoff series against Brodeur is even worse.
Over Brodeur’s storied time in the New Jersey nets, the Devils are a perfect 10-for-10 when winning the first two games of a post-season series. New Jersey could get there again Sunday night, when the Devils visit the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup.
New Jersey used a three-goal start to fuel what became a 3-2 victory in Game 1, and the Panthers understand another home loss in Game 2 would mean big trouble.
“We’ve got to split here,” Florida defenceman Brian Campbell said. “That’s what we’ve got to look at right now. We know what we have to do. We know what areas we need to improve on. So we’ll look at that. But definitely, we have to grab Game 2.”
So on Saturday, the Panthers—back in the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and still looking for their first playoff win since 1997—regrouped.
Just about everyone took the ice for practice, coach Kevin Dineen broke down the tape, and his assessment on Saturday was largely the same as it was in the moments following Game 1: There are things the Panthers, even down a game, can be pleased with.
“Over the course of the year, I’ve tried to lean on the positives,” Dineen said. “I think there were some things to build on. And I would certainly like to think we’d be better prepared (Sunday) night.”
Probably a good plan, because Devils coach Pete DeBoer started talking about his team needing to “get greedy”—meaning he doesn’t want it satisfied with a mere South Florida split—almost as soon as Game 1 ended.
“I think the pressure shifts to them,” DeBoer said.
The Panthers wouldn’t disagree with DeBoer, especially with their home-ice advantage in the series now gone.
The Devils didn’t take more than 18 first-period shots all season, and didn’t register more than 21 in any period throughout the course of the 82-game schedule.
But the first period of the playoffs? They took 26, scoring on three, and that was enough.
It was a barrage against Panthers goalie Jose Theodore, who all things considered probably did well to keep Florida within 3-0 after the first 20 minutes. And the Devils aren’t thinking that they’ll be allowed to get on that kind of roll again in the opening minutes Sunday.
“We know they’re going to fix that,” DeBoer said Saturday. “We talked about that this morning. We know we’re not going to get that fortunate again where we can outplay them like that again. So we have to be prepared to match whatever they’re going to raise as far as their intensity level. No one wants to be in an 0-2 hole heading on the road for two games. We’re going to see their best game and we have to be ready for that.”
In turn, the Panthers will have to be ready for Brodeur, who has beaten Florida 42 times in his career, nearly twice as many victories as any goalie in NHL history has against the reigning Southeast Division champions.
Brodeur made 24 saves against Florida in the opener, 11 in the second period when the Panthers scored twice to make things interesting. He was called upon to make only six stops in the final 20 minutes, yet still tipped his cap to Florida afterward.
“They feel good somewhat about some of the things they exposed on us in the second period and they played us pretty well in the third period without getting too much damage on us, but it’s not like we blew them out of the water here,” Brodeur said. “They competed really hard and we expect even more competing. For a lot of young guys it was the first playoff game and playoff atmosphere.”
True, though there’s also a handful of players in the Florida dressing room that have their names on the Stanley Cup. Which is why the Panthers aren’t using happy-to-be-here as an excuse.
“In playoffs, every game is big and that’s what makes it so fun,” said Theodore, who’s in line for the 49th playoff start of his career in Game 2. “Every game is exciting. Obviously, the first one, we had a full week to talk about. But at the same time, it’s good to get back in and Sunday is going tobe the same kind of game.”
If Game 2 goes the way the final two periods went in Game 1, the Panthers insist there’s no reason for them not to be confident.
“Obviously, it’s hard to get out of a 3-0 hole against that team,” Panthers forward Kris Versteeg said. “But we can take the confidence we have from the last two periods and have it going into Game 2.”
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