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2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 3 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

Crashing the net is usually a good idea on offense.  Zach Parise, with help from Dmitry Kulikov, shows that it can be taken to an extreme. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Crashing the net is usually a good idea on offense. Zach Parise, with help from Dmitry Kulikov, shows that it can be taken to an extreme. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Series: The New Jersey Devils (1) vs. the Florida Panthers (1)

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 Last Game: The Devils got off to a bad start to Game 2. Andy Greene tripped Marcel Goc and a puck bounced to Stephen Weiss for an easy power play score 23 seconds into the game. The Devils saw the early 1-0 deficit and decided to do very little as they mounted a mere four shots on net and one goal post. The Panthers were more than willing to oblige with just two more shots on net in the first. The Panthers did get a long 5-on-3 near the end of the first period due to two minors called on the same shift. Sure enough, early in the second period (it carried over), the puck bounced to a wide-open Weiss for another easy power play goal. The Devils decided to respond by, well, not really responding. Goc got a shot through to Martin Brodeur, who could have handled it better, and it dropped into the net to make it 3-0. Needless to say, the second sucked.

The Devils came out flying in the third period. Travis Zajac put a shot through Jose Theodore to get them on the board and Ilya Kovalchuk re-directed a puck sent by Adam Henrique not long afterwards. With plenty of time left, the Devils suddenly were only down one and had Florida on their heels. They pinned back the Panthers several times and while Florida didn't lie down, the Devils had the better of possession. They just needed one bounce, one clean shot at the puck amid traffic, or anything resembling just one break. It didn't happen. A late shot was blocked out, Tomas Fleischmann skated it down to stash it in the empty net for a 4-2 loss. The series is tied at 1-1. My recap of the loss is right here. For an opposition's take, please check out Ryan Meier's recap over at Litter Box Cats.

The Goal: Keep this game at even strength. The Devils' power play has been a nightmare after the first period of Game 1. It's not that they don't convert, but they have made futile effort after futile effort to just enter Florida's end of the rink with the puck. As for the penalty kill, they've allowed three PPGs to Florida. While two of them were just bounces that went to the extra man, Florida has been in the game because of them. The Devils' best penalty kill is to not take a call to begin with, and so I want to see that.

Most of all, I want to see this game stay at evens because the Devils have been the superior team in possession in both games in 5-on-5 play. According to Cam Charron's scoring chance count, the Devils have been vastly superior in creating chances at evens. The Weiss line has been tamed at evens. Their best line of Goc, Sean Bergenheim, and Mikael Samuelsson have been just above zero. Special teams have been in Florida's favor early in this series. The Devils have been better at evens. Clearly, the Devils should do what they can to keep the game in the situation that favors them.

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

The Devils did not practice on Monday. According to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Peter DeBoer thinks the rest will do the team good. I see where he's coming from. Game 2 was physical without being filled with garbage like some other playoff series this year. Zach Parise took a shot in the back. Giving the players the day to heal up a bit could help. It's not like one practice after a season full of them and games is going to suddenly make a big difference in how they'll play. Speaking of differences, there won't be any expected changes the Devils' lineup. DeBoer plans on using the same lineup in Game 3 as he did in Game 2.

To that end, let me make this plea to Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson: please feel free to get shots on net. The thirds have been seeing plenty of the Goc line and they're not winning that match-up. While that line isn't blowing anyone away with offense, they're doing more than either. It's strange I'm saying this about Clarkson, who's been a shot machine in 2011-12. But Clarkson only has three shots, two for Ponikarkovsky, and that means the Devils' forward depth isn't helping out as much as they could. Zajac joining them in the third period of Game 2 helped them out, in my view. Before then, they were non-factors. I'm not saying they need to start scoring tons of goals. As nice as that would be, it's more important that they can get some consistent offense going. This means Florida would have more to deal with than just Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac, and whatever the Elias line accomplishes. This would deepen their attack and possibly lead to more scoring opportunities, if not goals. I hope it begins tonight.

Let's also hope Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky continue to put up quality minutes on defense. Greene's penalty to start Game 2 was dumb, but his solid play from that event onward has been very good. Zidlicky has led the Devils defense in chances and average ice time with 24:33. He's providing some offense and good puck movement outside of the power play. Overall, I think any Devils fan has to pleased with how they're playing. It also explains why Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov have been so limited other than the reality that the third pairing has been playing like, well, a third pairing.

It goes without saying that the Devils need to start off the game well. They were brilliant in Game 1, disastrous in the first minute of Game 2, and tepid for the rest of the first (and second) period of Game 2. It's not going to guarantee a win, but avoiding an early deficit would be a big help. It would be even more to the Devils' advantage to play as if they're down to start. If they can take the initiative and bust through the Panthers' defensive posturing, then they can build on that for the rest of the game. Having the last change will help DeBoer get the match-ups he wants. I would think their strong third period in Game 2 should give them some confidence. Let's see if they can put it together for more than a period. Preferably three periods.

Incidentally, I would expect Kevin Dineen to use the same lineup in Game 3 as they had in Game 2. As far as I can tell, they didn't practice on Monday either. Plus, I'm not sure what changes they would want to make. Their bottom six hasn't been so bad that Mike Santorelli needs to enter the lineup. I doubt Keaton Ellerby jumps Erik Gudbranson or Ed Jovanovski on the blueline, though it can be argued that he should over Jovanovski. Jose Theodore hasn't been bad at all and so he should stay as the starter. Most of all, their lineup from Game 2 just won the franchise's first playoff game since 1997. Unless someone's hurt, I would expect all of them would be playing with a little extra spring in their stride. Don't sleep on them; the Devils sure won't.

One final thought for Game 3: it going to feel great to be back in my usual seat (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5) at the Rock. The last time the Devils played this late into April in Newark, we witnessed Jamie Langenbrunner dog it as the Devils were eliminated by the Flyers. The Devils have a chance to make a happier memory tonight. They got the split on the road, now they need to take control of the series in the next two games. Death or glory, Devils.

Now that you know my thoughts going into Game 3, I want to know what you think. Can the Devils keep this game at even strength more than they did in Games 1 and 2? Will we be surprised by the Devils' special teams, or will they continue to struggle? Will DeBoer keep Henrique and Zajac swapped, or will he revert the two to start Game 3? Will it matter? Who on Devils do you think needs to have a good game for the team to succeed? Who on Florida are you worried about in Game 3? Will the Devils win Game 3? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading. Go Devils.