The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ (Local), NHL Network, TSN (National); Radio - 970 AM WNYM
The Series: The New Jersey Devils at the Florida Panthers
The Series Preview: Here's a monster-sized preview of the whole series for both teams. Please check that out for details on both. This preview and subsequent previews will be narrower in focus.
The Viewing Parties: The Devils have two viewing parties according to their official website. There's one at Texas Arizona in Hoboken and the other is at Bar-A in Belmar.
For a Florida perspective, please visit Litter Box Cats. For a few more thoughts about this first game of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, please continue on after the jump.The Devils just about has their roster set for Game 1 tonight. Based on Tom Gulitti's report from Thursday's practice, Peter DeBoer has said he will not make any official announcements on who is or is not playing. However, Gulitti believes that the scratches will be Adam Larsson, Eric Boulton, and Cam Janssen. I think Gulitti's belief is correct. All three have consistently been the extra defenseman or forward in practice. It would be surprising for DeBoer to change things up right on game day.
I also have no problem with the roster decisions, if Gulitti is proven correct. Boulton and Janssen have done nothing all season and would continue to add nothing. That's not acceptable in the playoffs where everyone's contribution counts. Peter Harrold essentially won the #6 defenseman spot from Larsson near the end of the season. Harrold hasn't been perfect, but he's been prone to fewer errors than Larsson. Given that it's the playoffs, going with the hotter, less error-prone player is the right call. Since there haven't been any call-ups from Albany, this means Stephen Gionta will be the fill-in for Jacob Josefson on the fourth line. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this move since Gionta got it just by having one great game on the last day of the season. Then again, he'll be used in limited action so his impact can be minimized. Plus, he has shown he can do more than Boulton and Janssen and I will say that I prefer Gionta in the lineup over either goon.
As for the Panthers, head coach Kevin Dineen is still silent on who will start the game in net. We're not going to find out until later today. Harvey Filakov of the Sun Sentinel reported from the Panthers' practice on Thursday that Marco Sturm did take to the ice and Matt Bradley made an appearance Bradley will still be out as he recovers from a concussion. Filakov thinks Sturm, who is now "questionable" instead of "doubtful," will still miss Game 1. If that holds up, then Krys Barch would take his spot in the lineup. Given that Barch is essentially a Janssen-like player, this is a good thing for New Jersey. Filakov also has a gut feeling that Jose Theodore could get the start; but it's just that: a feeling.
Speaking of feelings, I have none for the officiating for this first game of the series. The refs are essentially a wildcard. Based on the playoff games in other series, the refs could let the players do as they wish or call a really tight game. Given the potency of the Florida power play as well as the crucial nature of playoff games in general, it's in New Jersey's best interest to stay disciplined as possible. Just as important as that, the Devils players need to pay attention to what the refs are doing. If they're handing out warnings or make a bunch of early calls for similar infractions, the team leadership and the coaches need to flow that down to the rest of the team. This way, the players can adjust to how the game will be called as opposed to just reacting to it. Of course, it's a moot point if the refs let the skaters get away with anything short of the violent and/or obvious.
What also will be moot is the atmosphere. I fully expect the Florida faithful to don their red apparel and raise a ruckus. Their team just made the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Of course they're going to be pumped. However, I don't think it'll mean much of anything on the ice. Just look at Pittsburgh and Vancouver in Game 1. Both arenas were rocking with a full-capacity crowd and it didn't make their teams play that better. An electric atmosphere is great to be in; but it's not going to make anyone play any better or worse.
One final note: it would be great if the Devils went out on the ice and stomped the Panthers for 60 minutes. That would be ideal. But if the Devils don't win Game 1, I wouldn't start getting miserable about how the rest of the series will go. The short term goal for New Jersey is to at least one of the first two games in Florida. That would effectively take home ice away from Florida and either even up the series or extend the lead. That's the important part of this series. The Devils may be the mostly favored team in this series, as Matt noted yesterday, but let's keep perspective. Winning this game should be the goal, certainly. I'm just saying that if it doesn't happen and should the Devils win Game 2 and it's no big deal.
Between this and the series preview, all that's left to do is wait for the puck to drop. It's going to feel like a long Friday. In the meantime, let me know what you think will happen in Game 1. What do you make of the current Devils roster? Will the Devils come out strong in Game 1? Will they need a wake up call, so to speak? Who should Florida start in net? Will the Devils win this game, and if not, will they win the next one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Game 1 in the comments. Thank you for reading. Go Devils.