NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — The Devils will return to the playoffs after a year’s absence with the NHL’s current longest winning streak and the biggest wait to start the postseason.

New Jersey is going to have to sit around for six days before it opens a first-round series Friday in Florida against the Panthers.

Star winger Ilya Kovalchuk recently told the New York Post, “If we play our best, nobody can beat us.” But the teams will face off in the last of the eight, best-of-seven series to start, and one could say the red-hot Devils might lose some momentum with almost a week off.

The other seven series start on Wednesday and Thursday.

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said that time off is so rare during a season that both teams should enjoy and put in a little extra preparation time.

“By the end of the day, when the playoffs start, we’re going to forget about our days off,” said Brodeur, who has led the Devils to three Stanley Cups. “This is going to be a grind and I think everybody is really anxious to start. There’s no doubt. I think it’s in our blood. You finish the season and want to get the playoffs going. You see the possibilities that can happen.”

Fellow veteran Petr Sykora was one of the few Devils who was openly unhappy with the schedule.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it, but that’s what it is,” said Sykora, who won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000 and who played in all 82 games this season. “We just have to keep ourselves sharp and be ready. Don’t get into that kind of phase of just practice after practice after practice. We have to keep our minds sharp and just be ready on Friday. Whatever it takes to be ready on Friday.”

“It’s more mental,” he added. “It’s about trying to stay fresh mentally. To be ready when the puck is dropped on Friday is all that matters.”

The time off should help forward David Clarkson and defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Clarkson, who had a career-best 30 goals this season, missed two of the final three regular-season games with a lower body injury. The Russian sat out the regular-season finale against Ottawa with the flu.

Clarkson said if the playoffs had started last week, he would have been in the lineup.

“Like I said, we’ve just got to show up, get ready to go to Florida, get ready to play and play the way we did at the end,” Clarkson said. “It’s always good when you end on a high note the way we did. Now, we’ve just got to be ready to play in the playoffs.”

Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who was fired by Florida last season after missing the playoffs for the third straight year, said the Devils haven’t had a chance to practice for four straight days in a while.

“We’ve got some meetings,” he said. “It gives us more opportunity to take our time and spread the information out a little bit. Get into some more detail on things.”

DeBoer had given his team off on Sunday so he plans to practice in New Jersey for four days before heading to Florida.

The Panthers had to adjust with the Friday start. Coach Kevin Dineen had expected the series to start on Thursday and then was told it was going to begin on Wednesday. He has now canceled Tuesday’s practice because of the long gap.

“We’ll get a couple more days for rest and preparation, which I think is a good thing, an advantage for our team right now,” Dineen said.

New Jersey’s leading goal scorer with 37, Kovalchuk smiled when asked about the extra days off.

“Now it’s 21st Century and TV,” he said. “It’s OK. We’ll take an extra day off because we played a lot of hockey in March. It’s always nice to rest and prepare ourselves the best we can. There are some new things about Florida and we want to go there and play well.”

Fellow veteran Patrik Elias downplayed the schedule, noting he wasn’t even aware the Devils won their final six games.

“I think that is a good thing that we don’t pay too much attention to these things, if you win, how many you win or if you lose, how many you lose,” Elias said. “We just focus on our game.”

The Devils and Panthers split four regular-season games.

Do you think the Devils will come out stale? Sound off in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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