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2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 2 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers

These people at Game 1 did it right.  Well done, visiting fans!  (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
These people at Game 1 did it right. Well done, visiting fans! (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ (Local); NBC Sports Network, TSN (National); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Series: The New Jersey Devils (1) at the Florida Panthers (0)

The Series Preview: Want an analysis of how both teams did in the regular season? Then read this series preview. This and future game previews will focus on the short term.

The Viewing Parties: The Devils will host two viewing parties for this game: Miami Mike's in East Hanover and the Marlins Cafe in Point Pleasant. Both parties will begin at 7 PM.

The Last Game: The Devils swarmed it up all over the Panthers for the first twenty minutes. 26 shots on net, six of the best power play minutes seen by the Devils all season, and three goals. It was glorious. Then the Panthers decided to play hockey in the second period. It wasn't immediate but they started fighting back with possession and shots. Sean Bergenheim got Florida on the board, and then Kris Versteeg converted on a power play to pull Florida within one. One could say the Devils escaped the second period. The Devils adjusted in the third period and really clamped down on the Panthers, particularly on defense. Chances and shots dropped as the Devils kept the game in check. A desperate last-minute attack by Florida was just that, and the Devils held on to win 3-2. My recap of the game is here. For a Florida-based perspective, please read this recap by Chris S Roberts at Litter Box Cats.

The Goal: Keep up the attack - with or without the lead. The New Jersey Devils dropped a game's worth of offense in the first twenty minutes against Florida in Game 1. It was awesome. Then the Panthers decided to play like a NHL team in the second period and pulled within one goal. The Devils closed them off in the third period to win; but in both cases, the Devils' attack sagged. I understand the shot count going towards the opposition with a lead; and I know the Devils still out-attempted the Panthers by three in even strength. Still, one of the big takeaways from Game 1 is to keep pushing ahead. Even a three goal lead wasn't enough to demoralize the Panthers, and since this is essentially is a must-win game, larger leads won't get them down. The best way to stem a comeback effort is to keep it simple on offense and put any open looks on net. If the Devils can keep attacking, then they got a good chance as any to take a strong 2-0 lead in this series tonight.

For an opposition perspective on tonight's game, please visit Litter Box Cats. For a few more of my thoughts on this game, please continue on after the jump.

In my opinion, the most interesting quote after Game 1 came from Patrik Elias regarding how Game 1 went. Here's what he said, as reported in this post at Fire & Ice by Tom Gulitti:

"It was a pretty good period by us to come out after six days off and just everything was working for us," Elias said. "In the second I don’t think that anybody took it lightly. It was just they adjusted. They were better, obviously, and all the sudden we didn’t come out of our zone under control and that we couldn’t get any forecheck, any shots going. They got one goal on the power play that got them back into the game, but it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to remind us it’s not going to be easy."

As much as we all got worried about how Florida was going to make up a three-goal deficit in Sunrise again, I'm glad a veteran forward like Elias seems to take it in stride. Winning certainly helps, but it's also a peek into what I hope is the mindset of the team. The second period against Florida wasn't good but they recognized it was largely because Florida remembered it was the NHL playoffs and needed to step up their performance. They recognize their issues but they didn't panic. They understood what it meant in the bigger picture of the whole series. Just as importantly, the Devils' performance in the third period fell in line with that. The Devils adjusted to Florida, they made things difficult for them, and they sealed off the game.

That's what I want the Devils' mindset to be: if something doesn't go right and the team suffers, then collect yourself, adjust, and try to take it back. It's a constructive and confident attitude. Again, I hope the rest of the team feels the same way as Elias did then. I expect the Panthers are going to come out with a furious energy tonight.

I shouldn't have to emphasize this, but I will anyway: Florida needs to win this game. It's not that they can't win in New Jersey. However, going down 2-0 in a series is a tough spot to be in. You can be sure they're not going to allow 26 shots on net in the first period. You can be sure they're going to crash the net and hope for favorable bounces. You can be sure the Weiss line is going to be "inspired" after being held in check at even strength in Game 1. They're going to push for an early lead. I think the Devils will have to play a guarded game more like what we saw in the third period in Game 1 until the game opens itself up. The good news is that Peter DeBoer and the players recognize the situation for Florida based on this Saturday post by Gulitti. Again, let's hope their actions follow their words.

I also think that few parts of the Devils' game could stand to improve. With respect to team performances, I want to see a better effort from the power play. Don't get me wrong, they were marvelous in the first period with twelve shots on net in just under six minutes of power play time. However, they were terrible after the first period. They couldn't break through the Panthers at the blueline to get set up for most of their other power plays, much less generate good shots on net. The Devils should strive for some consistency in at least getting into Florida's zone. They don't all have to be dump-ins or carrying it over. It's one thing to not convert on a power play; but it's just wasted time if there's not even possession in Florida's end of the rink.

Speaking of possession, I'd like to see the Devils' top line of Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, and Ilya Kovalchuk do more at even strength tonight. While the threesome combined for a lot of shots on net and did get matched with the Stephen Weiss line (Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann), they were inconsistent at even strength. They would have a good shift and then an uneventful shift, and it seemed like the uneventful ones were more common place. I understand that they're going to get tough matchups, but they've been seeing plenty of them all season long. It won't be easy, but I still want them to make a bigger mark on Game 2 than they did in Game 1.

They were helped out by the Elias line, who had a better possession game and were more productive on fewer shots. They had a good game and I hope they can continue to match up well against Florida's top six. The Devils have the better forward depth on paper, but that depth needs to show on the ice. We saw it from Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, and Petr Sykora. We saw it in limited minutes from the fourths, namely Ryan Carter. I hope to see more of it from David Clarkson, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Adam Henrique. I still want the Zajac line to better assert themselves in Game 2 to really put the Panthers' defend to the sword, but that doesn't mean the other lines can relent.

On defense, I was mostly fine with what the Devils did outside of Anton Volchenkov. In fact, I really liked how Andy Greene played. However, Volchenkov was simply poor in Game 1. He got beaten badly by Bergenheim that led to the first goal against and he was out of position on the PK that led to the second. His lack of speed was exposed and his physical edge was a non-factor. Volchenkov didn't even play 12 minutes in Game 1. He had a bad game. He's experienced enough to know he can do better and to bounce back from a bad performance. I want him to do both. Volchenkov is still an asset to this team on defense. If he can play well, that helps deepen the blueline. They won't have to lean heavily on the top four, which is a benefit all by itself. Let's hope A-Train gets back on track.

As far as rosters go, I don't anticipate any changes for either team. The Devils will remain as they are and Martin Brodeur will be just fine in between the pipes. Tom Gulitti did confirm at the end of this post that Brodeur will start against Theodore. Miami Herald writer George Richards confirmed this in his Saturday post at On Frozen Pond. It makes sense for Florida to stick with him; he wasn't the reason they lost. Richards also noted that while Tomas Fleischmann didn't practice on Saturday, he'll play in Game 2. Surely, he won't be as invisible as he was in Game 1, right? Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel reported from practice on Twitter that Mike Santorelli and Krys Barch were in blue jerseys, which indicate they'll be scratched again.

I want to know you what you think. Will the Devils keep it together in Game 2? Will they keep up the attack with or without the lead, or will this be a grind-it-out effort? Do you think Volchenkov will have a better game? Do you think the Zajac line will do more? Can the power play actually gain the zone more consistently? What else do you think the Devils need to do to make a 2-0 series? Will they do it? Please leave your answers, predictions for tonight's game, and other thoughts about Game 2 in the comments. Thank you for reading. Go Devils.