Panthers know they're not through yet

Panthers forward Scottie Upshall (top) celebrates his goal against the Devils with teammates during...

Panthers forward Scottie Upshall (top) celebrates his goal against the Devils with teammates during Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., April 21, 2012. (RHONA WISE/Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

SUNRISE, FLA. - Brian Campbell sat at his stall in a crowded Florida Panthers dressing room late Saturday night, surrounded by reporters and happily answering questions about the Panthers' Game 5 win.

As the group of media dispersed, Campbell acknowledged he will be issuing a warning of sorts to his Panthers teammates.

Having been part of a Stanley Cup run two years ago with the Chicago Blackhawks, Campbell is fully aware the Panthers have accomplished nothing yet.

They lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils 3-2 and can wrap the series up with a victory at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Tuesday night.

"You talk about it," Campbell said. "I think you remind them that there are a lot of wins left. Come Tuesday, we're going to need a lot of desperation. It's going to be a great challenge to go in there.

"There have been a lot of trying times for our fans, and it's good for them now to go around town saying they are a Panthers fan, and to be happy about things. We want to keep it rolling."

The Panthers have won three playoff rounds in team history, all of them in 1996,when they went on that rat-inspired charge through the post-season, only to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup final.

The Devils' playoff success is more recent, of course, but they're going to have to do something they have not done in a while to advance.

New Jersey has not won two games in a row in the playoffs in 27 consecutive games. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2003, they are 1-6 in elimination games. And they're 2-5 in series they have trailed 3-2, beating only the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000 and the Maple Leafs in 2001. Their 4-8 playoff record at the Prudential Center also is a reminder that home ice is not always a good place to be.

Neither team practised Sunday, but in a conference call Devils coach Peter DeBoer concurred his team has used its free pass.

"We can't have another game like (Game 5)," DeBoer said. "We know that. We don't have that luxury any more.

"We're 60 minutes removed from one of our best games of the season (Game 4), where we dominated in almost every area. We're not changing anything, we're just asking (the players) to change their level."

There remains the notion that Devils forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson are playing hurt.

"If it does change the series, you weren't deep enough to go where you want to go anyway," DeBoer said.

Few picked the Panthers to beat the Devils. Sure, the Panthers won the Southeast Division and got home-ice advantage as the third seed, but they finished with 94 points, eight less than the Devils, who had 10 more wins in the regular season.

But as these playoffs have demonstrated, what happens in the regular season mostly can be forgotten.

There has not been much commonality in the Panthers/Devils clash, outside of the fact that in every game, one team has had a 3-0 lead. Neither side has had much of an interest in claiming momentum as its own. The Panthers played smart, determined hockey in Game 5, and the Devils were surprisingly listless for a club that was a force in Game 4.

If the Panthers take a similar focus and determination into Game 6, they very well could head back home with a few days rest before the next round begins. Yet, it's just as easy to think that the Devils will make a hard stand and send the series south again for Game 7 on Thursday.

Panthers forward Kris Versteeg was a teammate of Campbell in 2010 in Chicago and carried the same tune.

"This is what we wanted," Versteeg said. "You want to get that game where you give yourself a chance to win the series and we're here now. It's going to be a hard hurdle to hop over, but it's going to be a lot of fun.

"We have to take the positives but not be too high. It's about the team that stays pretty even-keel the longest that will win."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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