The New Jersey Devils play their last game against the Florida Panthers on what could be a typical March-ish Saturday afternoon in New Jersey. That is, who knows what it'll be like, but you'll be glad you're indoors for the most part.
The last time these two teams faced each other, it was just last week and it was hideous. The Devils just got beat on to the tune of 4-0. The Panthers are in the playoff hunt and they certainly aren't taking any prisoners. They can't afford to with the standings being so tight from fifth to tenth in the east.
Unfortunately for any Panthers fan who isn't aware of New Jersey's recent news, this Devils team is different. This is a Devils team with Paul Martin, who is feeling good and leading the defense once again. This is a Devils team coming off an excellent 4-0 win over Colorado on Thursday. This is a Devils team with no one sick with the flu. This is a Devils team where Sutter is mixing up the forwards to try and get more out of them (per Gulitti). This is a Devils team where Martin Brodeur is healthy. And as Chere reported on Friday, he's starting against the Panthers.
Oh, yeah, it's quite a bit different from February 17!
Personally, I would have went with Weekes and give Marty the Philadelphia start, as that game is against a rival and will mean a lot more within the Atlantic. But, hey, Brodeur needs playing time and I'm not Brent Sutter. Besides, given what happened in their last game against Florida, I'd have to think some revenge is in order. Just look at what happened to Atlanta, the last team before Florida to stun the Devils 4-0 in their next game: 5-1. Hopefully, history will repeat itself and the Devils will come out flying against Florida.
Now, that all said, the Panthers would be very wise to roll out the game tape from their last win against New Jersey. The Devils' forwards tend to struggle when the other team plays tight-checking defense. While Sutter is mixing up the forwards, it's a high pressure style meant to disrupt puck possession teams. The Devils can counter this by making quick and smart passes with the puck going forward. The Devils' offense would be wise to test Tomas Vokoun often and to do that, they need to avoid conceeding possession easily. Make the opposition work for it you know? Let me make the not-so-bold prediction that Brodeur will not get a shutout today; so it's imperative that the Devils (Zach Parise, goal on line 1....) actually try and beat Vokoun on offense.
While the Panthers will be a bit weaker on defense for today that Nick Boynton was sent home
to be traded for disciplinary reasons, expect Jay Bouwmeester to play his heart out. He's a stud defender that is the hot topic of many trade rumors right now, but more importantly, he's a big reason why the Panthers aren't out of the postseason by now. While the Panthers boast no big scorers, they get the job done with a lot of tenacious play and Bouwmeester excels at making that seemingly small play into a series of events that result in something massive for Florida. The Devils will do well to be extra careful in protecting the puck when he's out there. Scouts from all over the league will be watching him, but someone on the Devils needs to pay attention as well.
For the Panthers perspective on matters, check out Litter Box Cats and assure him that Bouwmeester hasn't gone anywhere (yet). Feel free to discuss the game in advance of the GameThread here, post any updates on lines, any thoughts and feelings about the game, and whatever else as long as it's Devils-relevant.