By John Schweibacher
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The New Jersey Devils are back in the NHL playoffs after a one-year absence and their first round opponent, the Florida Panthers, are making their first postseason appearance since 2000.
Despite their long playoff drought, the Panthers’ roster has more former Stanley Cup winners than the Devils, including one player who played for two NHL championship teams in New Jersey.
Current Florida Panthers Cup Winners:
•John Madden (3) NJ 2000, 2003 CHI 2010
•Brian Campbell (1) CHI 2010
•Tomas Kopecky (1) CHI 2010
•Kris Versteeg (1) CHI 2010
•Mikael Samuelsson (1) DET 2008
Current New Jersey Devils Cup Winners:
•Martin Brodeur (3) NJ 1995, 2000, 2003
•Patrik Elias (2) NJ 2000, 2003
•Petr Sykora (2) NJ 2000, PIT 2009
•Ryan Carter (1) ANA 2007
The Devils swept the Panthers in their only previous postseason meeting back in the 2000 playoffs. Which, by coincidence, also began on April 13, just as this year’s match-up will Friday night.
Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and current Panther John Madden all appeared in the series 12 years ago. No current Panthers player was with Florida back then.
New Jersey has not won a post-season series since their opening round victory over Tampa Bay in 2007. The four straight series defeats is one short of the Devils longest-ever stretch of five consecutive playoff series losses:
•1988 Wales Conference Finals: Lost to Boston 4-3
•1990 Patrick Division Semifinals: Lost to Washington 4-2
•1991 Patrick Division Semifinals: Lost to Pittsburgh 4-3
•1992 Patrick Division Semifinals: Lost to NY Rangers 4-3
•1993 Patrick Division Semifinals: Lost to Pittsburgh 4-1
Martin Brodeur begins the postseason with an all-time playoff record of 99-82 with a goals against average of 2.01. Brodeur is tied with Patrick Roy for the most career post-season shutouts (23) and is second to Roy in wins (151) and 181 games played (247).
Brodeur has started each of New Jersey’s last 170 post-season games, dating back to game one of the Devils’ 1994 Eastern Conference Finals series against the Rangers. Chris Terreri was the last New Jersey goaltender to start a playoff game other than Brodeur, winning game six of the previous series that season over the Bruins at Boston Garden on May 11th, 1994.
Florida could start either Jose Theodore or ex-Devil Scott Clemmensen in goal in game one Friday night. Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 goals against average in his five career starts against New Jersey, including a 3-1 win in his only decision vs. the Devils this season back on February 11th at Prudential Center.
John Vanbiesbrouck, Kevin Weekes and Johan Hedberg are the only goaltenders in Devils’ history who also played against New Jersey in the postseason. Clemmensen would become the first of the group to appear against the Devils after leaving New Jersey.
New Jersey went 1 and 1 against Jose Theodore during the regular season, losing 4-3 back on November 21st in Florida and beating him there, 3-2 in the shootout, on December 13. Theodore has a lifetime record of 8-16-3 with a 2.64 GAA in his 25 career regular season games against the Devils.
Theodore has played in two career post-season games against New Jersey. Back in 1997 as a 20-year-old with the Montreal Canadiens, Theodore started two of the games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. the Devils. With Montreal trailing the series three games to none, Theodore got the start in game four, a 4-3 triple-overtime Canadiens win. New Jersey defeated Theodore and eliminated Montreal, 4-0, in game five.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer will be coaching in his first NHL postseason as is his successor with Panthers; Kevin Dineen. Dineen faced New Jersey as a player with the Philadelphia Flyers back in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, scoring three goals and adding one assist in the six games. Dineen will become the first man to face the Devils in the playoffs as both a player and head coach.
Plus: Penalty-Kill. Devils finished the regular season with the best penalty-killing percentage in the NHL since the 1967-68 expansion; 89.58, topping the old mark of 89.25 set by the 1999-00 Dallas Stars.
Minus: Bad Seed. New Jersey has not won a postseason series without home-ice advantage since defeating Ottawa in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals and has not won an opening round playoff series which began on the road since beating Boston in 1995.
What’s your prediction for Devils-Panthers? Be heard in the comments below!