Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – Friday is the day Florida Panthers fans worried would never come. The Cats will open the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a first-round matchup with the New Jersey Devils at the Bank Atlantic Center on Friday the 13th.
The Panthers’ have been a house of horrors for the better part of the last decade. Many seasons the Panthers had nothing to play for entering February and March. But this year, the Panthers waited until the very last game to clinch the Southeast Division title.
Now comes the tougher part, winning a playoff game. The last time the Panthers won a playoff game Bill Clinton was entering his second presidential term. Still, during a two-year run in the 1995-1997, the Cats made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the first year and lost in the quarterfinals in 1997.
Coincidentally, the last team to face the Panthers in the postseason was the New Jersey Devils in 2000.
The Panthers are coming into the playoffs after winning just one of their last six games. The Devils enter the playoffs winning six games in a row, including three against playoff teams.
For the season, New Jersey finished with eight more points than Florida. But, the Devils finished with 10 more wins than Florida and 12 less overtime games. New Jersey had 25 more goals during the season, 228-203. New Jersey gave up 18 fewer goals than Florida for the year, 227-209.
Where New Jersey is especially dangerous is away from home. The Devils finished with a 24-15-2 record on the road this season. On the flip side, Florida had a 21-9-11 record at home, which makes the overall records almost a push.
New Jersey will have the goalie advantage with the veteran Martin Brodeur manning the net. Brodeur is 31-21 on the season and averaged just giving up 2.41 goals per game, while stopping 91 percent of the shots against him.
The Panthers haven’t decided which goalie will start the opening game. The Panthers can go with Jose Theodore who is 22-16 with a 92 percent goals stopped percentage, or Scott Clemmensen who was 14-6 and a 91 percent goal stoppage rate.
Theodore is likely to get the start, despite struggling down the stretch for the Panthers.
The stakes for the Panthers couldn’t be higher. A lengthy playoff run will establish the team as the second-best in South Florida behind the Miami Heat. A first-round exit will reinforce to some fans that the team is still a ways away from being Stanley Cup Finals contenders.
Regardless of what happens, the Panthers are playoff bound and start their pursuit on Friday at 7:00 p.m. The game can be seen on the NHL Network.