#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey
Advantages Florida: Underdog and disrespected, not playing under bright lights
The Florida Panthers won their first division title in team history and were consistently in playoff position the whole season. It is no fluke that they made the playoffs. The Panthers ended a long absence from the playoffs, but they have some experienced playoff performers in Campbell, Versteeg, Jovanovski, and Bergenheim. Yet, no one is picking the higher seed to win this series. It is expected that New Jersey will win this series quickly and move on to the second round. Florida can use the fuel of being disrespected to play a high energy, disciplined game. From a mental game perspective, Florida is not under much pressure to win as fans will be happy to just see the playoffs.
Barriers Florida: Inexperience, poor recent performance, consistent goaltending?, do they believe?
Again, it was a surprise that Florida won the division and were able to acquire home ice advantage. This should help the Panthers in their quest to stop the surging Devils. However, the Panthers are inexperienced as a whole when it comes to the playoffs. How will they handle the pressure situations? Will they continue to believe in themselves when times get tough? The Panthers need more scoring throughout their four lines or it could be a short playoff run.
Florida barely held on to the #3 seed entering the playoffs and are not coming in off a winning streak. Will they be able to find their game? The Panther's fortunes will rest in the crease with Jose Theodore who has bounced back to have an excellent year. It will be key for Theodore to win games in this series, not just keep the Panthers in the game.
Advantages New Jersey: Experience, Brodeur, Offensive game changers, belief, hot streak
The New Jersey Devils enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. They are full of confidence and ready to take on the Panthers. No doubt that the Devils are feeling good about their match up with Florida. It is a much better draw in the first round than Pittsburgh or Boston. The Devils have great leadership and playoff experience in their lineup. Brodeur, Elias, Volchenkov, Zubrus provide the kind of experience that will help the Devils navigate any playoff situation. Starting on the road for this team will be no big deal.
Martin Brodeur has the ability to put his mark on this series and frustrate the forwards of Florida. If Marty gets hot New Jersey will be skating free of any worries about giving up goals. It is a great mental position to play from. Interestingly, and this probably is the only Devils team I would say this about, they have offensive game changers that will be able to take over games. Kovalchuk, Parise, and young Henrique provide great offensive spark. New Jersey is feeling good about themselves and will be difficult to handle in the playoffs.
Barriers New Jersey: Overlook Florida?, Recent playoff history
When you look at this match up many things point in the favor of New Jersey. This should be an alarm for the coaching staff of the Devils. It would be easy to overlook Florida. Their may not be as much excitement in Florida about the playoffs and the Devils will need to generate the energy early in the series. If the Devils allow the situation to affect their preparation then they will be ripe for the upset. I don't think they will, however.
The Devils recent playoff history is not full of wins, and for many of the guys in their lineup they are looking for a playoff series win. The defense can be shaky at times and will need to hold up against the Florida attack.
Take Homes: For a lower seed New Jersey is full of confidence and feels like it is the favorite. Florida must win on home ice and be strong in one-goal games.