For the New Jersey Devils, last season's disappointing finish hung like a cloud over their entire offseason. For the first time in 14 seasons, the team failed to qualify for the postseason, and found themselves within the top five teams of the draft lottery.
But now, just one year later, New Jersey is back in the playoffs battling for the Cup. The sixth-seeded Devils open the playoffs tonight against the Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers. Gametime is 7 p.m., and can be seen on either NHL Network, TSN and MSG Plus.
New Jersey ended the regular season fourth in the Altantic Division, with a 48-28-6 record and 102 points. They closed their season with six straight wins, the longest winning streak of the season.
After a five-day layoff, Devils head coach Pete DeBoer thinks his team is as prepared as possible to open the series.
"You’re ready to go," DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "You can over-think it and I really believe you can over-prepare too and that’s been the line we’ve tried to walk where we’ve given them enough information to feel comfortable and confident, but you don’t want to paralyze them with it either."
The first year coach will make his playoff debut. DeBoer, who formerly coached Florida, did not qualify for the playoffs in three years with the team.
Martin Brodeur will start for New Jersey. He's 99-82 in 181 career playoff games, with a 2.01 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
Rookie coach Kevin Dineen, who led Florida to their first ever division title, will wait until the game to announce his starter. The Panthers finished the season with a 38-26-18 record and 94 points. They won just two of their final ten games, almost losing the division crown to the Washington Capitals.
The two teams split the regular season series, 2-2. They also met in the first round of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Devils swept that series, knocking the fifth-seeded Panthers out in four games.
Even though the Devils are heavily favored, Brodeur said the team needs to ignore the pundits and focus on winning the first game.
"I don’t try to look at it, but it’s kind of hard (to ignore) because it’s all over the place," Brodeur told Gulitti. "It is what it is. People I think they have somewhat of respect for our hockey team and we have to be proud of that. It goes both ways. When they pick for you, well, that’s nice. When they pick against you, it’s try to prove them wrong."