In the week leading up to the opening game between the and the , SBNation New York will take a look at all aspects of the first-round matchup. Make sure to check out SBNation's for all the news and analysis of the series.
Despite most pundits picking the New Jersey Devils to beat the Florida Panthers in the opening round of the NHL playoffs, the series is closer than it appears. New Jersey has the stronger offense, with the ability to send out at least three lines that can score. Florida can generate offense from the blueline, which is the biggest advantage they have in the series.
When it comes to the goaltending, the series tilts slightly toward the Devils.
That's not to say the Panthers are running out of shape beer league goalies. Jose Theodore played in 53 games this season, posting a 22-16-11 record with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He struggled late in the season, posting a 5-5-5 record between March and April. He posted an ugly 3.39 goals-against average, which was inflated after two bad April loses. He heads into the postseason as Florida's number one goalie, but he's not the unquestioned starter.
Every Devils fan is familiar with Florida's other goalie, Scott Clemmensen. He was 14-6-6 with a .2.57 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. He posted great numbers post all-star break, going 8-4-1 in 15 starts. He also posted a better goals-against average during the second half of the season, and could supplant Theodore as the team's go-to goalie for the series. We all know Clemmensen's success against New Jersey. In five games against the Devils, he's 4-0-0 with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
In a bit of gamesmanship, Florida is keeping their starter close to the vest, and will wait until Friday to reveal who will be in between the pipes for the series opener.
It's no secret who will be between the pipes for the New Jersey Devils. Martin Brodeur, who has backstopped the Devils to three Stanley Cup victories, will look to end a long playoff drought. He hasn't won a playoff series in four years, and it's been suggested that he may be a weak link on this year's team. He played 59 games this season, going 31-21-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. He rebounded from an ugly first half, posting a 17-9-2 record with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage during the second half of the season.
Brodeur is one win shy of 100 postseason wins, which is yet another milestone he'll add to his Hall of Fame resume. But he's still got a lot to prove. Sports Illustrated's Brian Cazeneuve said that, unlike in year's past, Brodeur is a wild card:
Give the Devils' capacity to play well in front of him, he may not need to steal games every night, but the man with 656 wins is still one lackluster effort away from slinking away in disappointment and one great run away from going out in glory.
If needed, Devils coach Peter DeBoer could turn to Johan Hedberg. The Devils backup went 17-7-2 this season, posting a 2.22 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. The players voted him the team's "Player's Player" and "Unsung Hero" award winner, and he carried the team through the early part of the season.
While Brodeur has faced some harsh criticism, it's his playoff experience that helps push the advantage to the Devils. It's not an automatic win for the Devils, but it's enough to give them an advantage over Florida.