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2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 5 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers

Devils hugging other Devils while cheering. That's what we want to see several times in Game 5.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Devils hugging other Devils while cheering. That's what we want to see several times in Game 5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Time: 6:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ (Local), TSN2, NHL Network (National); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Series: The New Jersey Devils (2) at the Florida Panthers (2)

The Viewing Party: The Devils' official website lists that the Game 6 viewing party will be at Texas-Arizona in Hoboken.

The Last Game: The Devils went into Game 4 down 2-1 in the series. The Devils needed to win this game to have a reasonable chance at winning this series. They got the job done. The first period was somewhat tentative between the Devils and Panthers. Both teams mostly played cautious with the occasional spurt of flowing offense. The second period seemed to be more of the same, except the Devils got a goal. Zach Parise deflected a deflection by Travis Zajac on a Marek Zidlicky shot to get the Devils on the board. The Devils nearly beat Scott Clemmensen again, Martin Brodeur continued to be excellent, and the Devils went into the third period with a lead. New Jersey kept their game going and they were rewarded thrice in the third. First, Steve Bernier fired a perfect shot over Clemmensen's shoulder to make it 2-0. Second, Travis Zajac hammered a one-timer from David Clarkson past Clemmensen. Third, Ilya Kovalchuk fired another shot over Clemmensen's shoulder to make it 4-0. The Devils closed out the Panthers and save for some physical shenanigans, the Devils cruised to a win. Brodeur earned his 24th career playoff shutout and the Devils tied up the series.

The Devils fans at the Rock and all over the world enjoyed the game and I declared that "it's on" in my recap. For the opposition's point of view, Ryan Meier has this recap over at Litter Box Cats.

The Goal: Don't just keep up the good work done in Game 4, boost it with some more offense. While the Devils didn't dominate the Panthers, they did win decisively. If the Devils want to have a chance at winning another game decisively - and they should - then they should look to get more rubber on net. 18 shots at evens and 27 shots overall isn't bad, but it could be better. To get there, the Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique lines should consider asserting themselves more often. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk will likely make their marks on the game since that's what they do; and the fourth line has been surprisingly hot. However, they can't do it themselves. Additional offense from the likes of Petr Sykora, Dainius Zubrus, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and 2011-12 Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique would not only help them in their match-ups against Florida's depth, but provide more opportunities to score. I wouldn't expect Florida to make it easy, but I think getting more shots as a whole with everyone contributing would give them an edge tonight.

For an opposition's point of view, please check out Litter Box Cats. For few more thoughts on tonight's game, please continue on after the jump.

The series is now a best-of-three. All of the games are now Big Games. The margin for error for both the Devils and Panthers is slim. Whoever wins this game doesn't just get one game closer to winning the series, but they put an extreme amount of pressure on the other team. The winner of Game 5 only has to win one out of two. That's a lot easier than winning two straight. Therefore, this is a must-win game for the Devils.

I'm glad to read that the players seem to understand that based on this Friday post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, Brodeur, and Parise know what's up and if they know, then it's likely the rest of the team will follow suit. It's the right attitude to have and I hope it'll mean there won't be any let down in Game 5. What was most interesting out of that post was Peter DeBoer's thoughts at the end:

"We just have to play a good road game," DeBoer said. "I thought we turned the puck over a little too much, gave them a little too much off the rush last night, which Marty bailed us out in some situations. So, I think we can tighten that up.

"I think our discipline in the third got away from us a little bit as the score did. So, that’s something we can definitely fix, too."

I can definitely agree with the latter quote. While the penalty kill and Martin Brodeur got the Devils through all of Florida's power plays, they are still a threat. I'd go so far as to say it's their main weapon. Their big line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, and Kris Vertsteeg has only been productive on man advantages. Their second line of Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, and Mikael Samuelsson has been their best line at evens but even there they haven't exactly done all that well. Their defense takes plenty of shots but, again, they've only been successful when up a man. I couldn't tell you how the refs will call this game, but the Devils can at least make a better effort to avoid making obvious fouls any ref would call. Keeping Florida's power play opportunities to a minimum will definitely help their cause for winning Game 5.

I'm more curious about the first quote, though. Martin Brodeur was awesome in Game 4. I have no concerns about him going into Game 5. If you have any, well, then you should watch Game 4 again. I didn't notice too many turnovers by the skaters that led to anything. There were turnovers in all three zones that turned into Florida possessions, but the Panthers did a good job botching most of them with turnovers of their own. There were a few odd man rushes where Brodeur did make a big stop; including one or two where Florida took their shot way earlier than necessary. As great as those were, I suppose I see DeBoer's larger point: Florida will eventually get one or two off those plays; it's not likely Brodeur remains perfect in net. If the Devils can clear the puck consistently from their own zone and keep it going forward through the neutral zone, then they'll not only help take the pressure off Brodeur (again: he shouldn't have to put in a shutout-worthy performance, he just needs to be solid) and their defense, but they'll be able to get more offensive opportunities - which is what I want to see.

As far as lineups go, the Devils won't change a thing from Game 4. Kovalchuk and Henrique didn't practice on Friday, but they told Gulitti that they'll play in Game 5. The Devils did name 17 players from Albany to their taxi squad; Tom Gulitti has the full list of who's involved in this post. None of them are in New Jersey, but the transaction means that if they wanted to bring them up immediately, then they could. As intriguing as the possibility of seeing Mattias Tedenby or Vladimir Zharkov in this series, it's wise to keep the Devils roster as-is. Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier have been playing quite well for their roles and I wouldn't change either of them right now. The only player who I would only consider switching out is Anton Volchenkov; but even he had a not-terrible performance in Game 4, so I can understand keeping him on the blueline.

With respect to the Panthers, it seems to me that we should expect defenseman Jason Garrison to play tonight. He was a surprisingly late scratch in Game 4 and I think the Panthers missed his low and heavy shot as well as his capability to play a significant number of minutes. According to this Tweet by George Richards of the Miami Herald, Kevin Dineen believes Garrison to be possible for tonight's game while Keaton Ellerby, Garrison's Game 4 replacement, will be out. I doubt that someone who may be "possible" to play wouldn't play in such an important game unless some new information comes to light.

Of course, with Scott Clemmensen getting beaten by four goals in Game 4, it's an open question as to who should start for Florida. Dineen hasn't said anything in advance, so it'll be another gameday decision. Gulitti wrote in this post at Fire & Ice that we could see the return of Jose Theodore as their starter. I wouldn't worry too much on who Florida puts in net. Game 4 showed the Devils could beat Clemmensen and the Devils piled eight in three games on Theodore. As long as they can keep attacking, they'll get what they need.

One final thought: I expect a lot of tension and a lot of close play for this game. Both teams know the stakes. Game 4 was the only game where one team won by more than one goal against a goaltender in this series and it was still a one-or-less goal game until the third period. These two teams know how to keep things close. That means whatever breakthroughs the Devils find - be it a power play, an odd man rush, a cycle that beats a defenseman, a simple crashing of the net, etc. - shouldn't be squandered. Again: it's a best-of-three series and while it may sound like hyperbole, these opportunities can make a real difference as to who moves on or not. It's going to be difficult. It's going to be tense. It's because it's on.

That's my take for this crucial Game 5. Now I want to know yours. Will the Devils carry any of their good play from Game 4 over? Which Devil player (or players) do you think will have a strong performance tonight? Which Devil player (or players) do you think needs to have a strong performance tonight? What do you think the Devils need to improve upon to win tonight's game from Game 4? What do you think they'll need to do to win tonight outside of the obvious "score more than them?" Will the Devils win Game 5? Please leave your answers and other comments about tonight's playoff game in the comments. Thank you for reading.