They can now tell their grandkids they were on Backhand Shelf

Game in a Sentence

The skepticism surrounding the existence of the Southeast division persisted through one period as the Devils made a mockery of the Panthers in Florida, but the Cats made a game of it over the next two, not by generating a ton of chances but converting the ones they got before Brodeur closed it down late.

Observations

- I’ll say what everyone else was thinking earlier tonight: The Devils looked fantastic early on against the Panthers in what was probably their best performance all season. Seriously. Crisp passing and fluid movement created chance after chance. Florida’s rearguards were forced to chase New Jersey around and got thoroughly exposed.

- Patrick Elias made Jose Theodore look absolutely stupid on the first Devils goal. It looked like Elias was being controlled by a 10 year old who was abusing the right stick on his game controller. Poor Theodore could only flop and hope as four of his teammates stood and watched it unfold. Brutal.

- The Shawn Matthias “high sticking” call was bogus. I know those plays happen in a bang-bang fashion but honestly, look where the guy has his damn stick. Exhibit A as compiled by yours truly…

No other exhibits are needed. I suspect the Devils would have rolled through the first even without the FOUR MINUTE POWER PLAY they got from that, but it was completely asinine.

- While we’re discussing the New Jersey offense, I thought I should note that the Devils point men were very good keeping possession inside the blueline early. The most underrated part of a team’s ability to hem their opposition deep is how their defenders keep the puck in at the point. I challenge anyone to find a team that gets scoring out of the cycle with a bad point presence.

- Sean Bergenheim’s goal was a pretty nice effort on his part. Great burst of speed to blow by Volchenkov (who I thought had a terrible game) and good finish to chip it past Brodeur’s blocker. From the Devils perspective on that one, you need Volchenkov to move his feet and Adam Henrique to step up the physicality around the crease. Leave the poke checking at game 82.

- Speaking of defensemen… There are worse things in the world for Ed Jovanovski than if he decided to hang em up after this playoff run. I noticed him every time he was on the ice for all the wrong reasons. Heavy footed, not making good contact on the body, getting worked over down low. It has been a pattern all season long. He needs to step it up going forward if the Panthers are to have a hope with him in the lineup.

- The Panthers showed good poise to make a game of it. This team was largely an unknown Frankenstein project before the season and they backed their way into the postseason, but they do have experience here. Bergenheim and Kris Versteg (their goal scorers) have both been part of big playoff runs. I’m willing to bet they make a series out of it.

- For the Panthers to make a series of it they need to play better team defense. On each of the Devils three goals there was some sort of lapse – be it positioning or otherwise – that put Theodore in a tough spot. He gave them a chance to win despite the team’s best efforts to leave him in the wind early on.

- Martin Brodeur won playoff game number 100 tonight which is cool. It would be cooler if he had a shot at Patrick Roy’s 151. Those Devils down years make you wonder what he could have done with a couple more chances. Also make you appreciate how great Roy was to consistently have his teams in a position to rack up those wins.

- In game two I’m keeping an eye on which team is quicker out of the gate. The Panthers were much more successful when they sat back in the trap they’ve been employing all season long and have the ability to turn this series into a “whichever team scores first wins” type of deal if they execute it. I’ll throw the gauntlet down now and argue that whoever scores first in game two wins.

My Three Stars:
1) Patrick Elias
2) Martin Brodeur
3) Sean Bergenheim

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