Panthers Know They Haven't Won Anything Yet
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers find themselves one victory away from extending their memorable season and winning their first playoff series since 1996.
But there is no cause for celebration yet. The Panthers know putting away the New Jersey Devils won't be easy.
Florida takes a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 Tuesday at the Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), where the teams split two games last week.
The Panthers rallied from a 3-0 first-period deficit to win 4-3 in Game 3 before the Devils recorded a 4-0 shutout victory in Game 4.
"It's going to be fun," said Scottie Upshall, who had one of Florida's goals in its 3-0 victory in Game 5 Saturday. "They're playing backs up against the wall. We know how hard they play in their building. It was a crazy atmosphere when we were there last week, and we're expecting nothing less than probably the hardest game of the series coming up."
The Panthers, who haven't won a playoff series since beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, put themselves on the brink of advancing with a balanced and complete effort Saturday.
Last week, Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk stopped just short of saying the winner of Game 5 would go on to take the series, but the Panthers realize it's not that simple.
"The fourth one is generally the hardest one to win," said Kris Versteeg, the offensive star of Game 5 with the game-winning goal and an assist. "It's going to be a resilient team on that side, and we've got to be resilient as well. We've got to want to win the game, but you also can't get too high from this one. We've just got to keep it going and be confident that we can win."
Based on recent history, things would seem to bode well for the Panthers.
The Devils failed to win consecutive games in their last three playoff series and they'll have to break that streak to win this series. New Jersey also has a 2-5 record in series after being down 3-2.
Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell, however, says those numbers don't mean much.
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"I don't think that pertains to hockey as much as, say, other sports, like football," Campbell said. "They always talk about it in football. At the end of the day, teams change so much over the years. For us, I don't think those stats mean anything. If we don't go out and play one of our better games, we're not going to have success."
If the Devils win Game 6, the deciding Game 7 would be Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers' last two home games have produced playoff-record crowds for the franchise, and the fans have shown their enthusiasm and support by tossing plastic rats onto the ice, carrying on a tradition that dates to the 1995-96 season.
"It was so nice playing here in front of our home fans. What an electric atmosphere that was for us," Dineen said after Game 5. "But I sure would rather wait a few days before we have to come home and play another game."
For that to happen, the Panthers will have to avoid another slow start. Twice in this series, the Panthers have fallen behind 3-0 in the first period.
That's why Dineen is focusing on the start of the game, not a possible victorious ending.
"We look at the next game and the respect that we have for our opponent doesn't trend for me to look further than the first five minutes of that game," he said. "They've overwhelmed us a couple of games in a row at the start in New Jersey and we certainly have to be prepared for the start of that game.
"Obviously, let's not kid ourselves, you're up 3-2, you'd like to be able to finish it in six. No guarantees. We'll go out and we'll play our game and we'll let the chips fall."
Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent