Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers will try to do something Thursday night South Florida hasn’t seen them do in 16 years, win a Stanley Cup Playoff series. The only thing standing in the Panthers’ way is the New Jersey Devils.
The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since winning the Eastern Conference over Pittsburgh in 1996. Thursday’s Game 7 is only the second time the Panthers have ever played a winner-take-all matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s do or die,” Panthers goalie Jose Theodore said Wednesday. “These are the kind of games you want to be part of. I mean, everybody when you’re a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that it’s Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. So obviously it’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win.”
Theodore didn’t play in Game 6 but could be between the pipes for Game 7. Florida doesn’t typically reveal who will start in goal until game day. Florida started Scott Clemmensen in goal in Game 6 and he played well, stopping 39 of 42 shots, it was his defensemen who allowed New Jersey to live in the Panthers’ zone.
“Theo has been our go-to guy,” Dineen said after watching a few minutes of Theodore’s workout. “And if he’s available, he’ll be the one running with it.”
The Devils dominated the Panthers in Game 6 outshooting Florida 42-16. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur could have almost gone for a lunch break at times in Game 6 because Florida couldn’t do anything to keep the puck out of their zone.
The Devils finished with 102 points this year, eight more than Florida, which got home-ice by virtue of winning the Southeast Division title on the final day of the regular season. To advance, New Jersey will have to find a way to finish off its first two-game postseason winning streak since 2007.
Theodore had a Game 7 shutout for Montreal over Boston in 2004. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski, whose playoff beard is flecked with gray now, was a rookie in Florida’s other one in 1996. Florida center John Madden played in a half-dozen of these for New Jersey, including a 2009 loss that was his last game with the Devils.
And everyone in the room has seen plenty of them, like forward Kris Versteeg, who said his favorite Game 7 memory was watching Colorado’s Joe Sakic opt not to raise the Stanley Cup first in 2001 — a captain’s tradition — and instead hand it off to the legendary Raymond Bourque, who spent 22 years chasing his title.
By the way, who lost that game Versteeg referenced? That would be the Devils.
“Play to win. Don’t play to lose,” Madden said when asked what advice he’d give to Game 7 first-timers. “Don’t go out there clenching your sticks thinking about making a mistake. Just go out there and want to be the guy who makes a difference in every shift.”
Florida thought it let a chance slip away in Game 6. Versteeg said frustration won’t carry over to Game 7.
“We haven’t made it easy on ourselves all season long, so why now?” Versteeg asked. “We’re excited about this.”