April 16, 2012
Panthers-Devils has been all business
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY
NEWARK - Other than a few excuse-me skirmishes, the odd face-wash and some bad words that your kid has heard on the schoolyard, there has been precious little bad blood in the first couple of games between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers.
Will that change Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, tied at one game apiece, as the best-of-seven series shifts north?
"It hasn't had that edge of pretty well all of the other series so far," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen told reporters after his club held an optional skate Monday afternoon.
"For me, it's hard to build up a lot of animosity because I think there's a lot of respect for their organization from the top down. We're trying to be as physical as we can.
"The players understand that special teams have played a big role and we're trying to keep our discipline at the right level."
It's not that the series has been devoid of intensity. Though some statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, it's still worth noting the Devils were credited with 52 hits in Game 2 and the Panthers 50. Even if those numbers are bloated to some extent, the fact remains that both sides have been laying the body.
What the series has lacked, and some would say it's better for it, are the shenanigans that unfold long after the whistle has been blown.
What's wrong with a couple of hockey teams going about things in a business-like manner? So far, the Devils and Panthers have done that.
As well, they don't have a long history of playoff battles with each other. The hatred that comes with cold wars is hard to find, considering the Panthers hadn't made the playoffs in 11 years.
"I think the physical edge is there," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said during a conference call. "At ice level, there is a real battle for space and territory. (But) the nastiness you see in the Pittsburgh-Philly series hasn't been there. I don't expect it, but you never know. Playoffs bring all kinds of different things."
Before Monday's games, only the series involving Boston and Washington, and Phoenix and Chicago, had produced fewer minor penalties.
The Devils are encouraged by returning home to the Prudential Center for the next two games, even if their recent playoff history in the swamp has not been good. Since 2006, the Devils are 7-11 in post-season home games.
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the Devils fans have. In Florida, fans were encouraged to wear red, but there certainly was not a sea of it for either of the first two games. There were empty seats on both nights, but the crowds were loud.
Devils captain Zach Parise said he doesn't necessarily see his club's return home as a huge advantage -- nothing to do with the crowd, mind you.
"The intimidation factor ... it's kind of gone," Parise said. "All teams are good and all teams play well at home and on the road. You play a little simpler on the road. You're not as fancy."
As with any playoff round, special teams have been a factor. The Devils were tops in the NHL during the regular season with an 89.6% success rate, but the Panthers scored three power-play goals on seven opportunities through two games.
The Devils, meanwhile, have scored just once on eight chances with the man-advantage.
"Just stay out of the box," Parise said. "That's a team that does create on the power play and gets all their momentum from there. I think we've been the better team five-on-five in the playoffs, so if we can stay out of the box a little bit and not allow them to get those extra chances I think we'll be OK."