The third-seeded Florida Panthers will meet the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs. However, the Panthers’ first postseason appearance in 12 years will be a short-lived one because I believe they won’t make it past the first round.
The Panthers have had an amazing season, capturing the Southeast Division title, among other things. The most amazing thing about their season has been their seemingly random assortment of postseason acquisitions. Guys like Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Matt Bradley and Jose Theodore have performed more remarkably as a team than many had expected.
New Jersey’s season has been nothing short of spectacular, too. Yes, they finished fourth in their division, but the Atlantic is arguably the most competitive division in the NHL. They finished with an outstanding 102 points.
The biggest thing working for New Jersey and against Florida is momentum. Momentum is something that is always important to the game of hockey, but it is especially vital in the postseason.
Conversely, the Panthers were limping down the final stretch of the season. In their last six games of the season, they only managed to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes, who were already far out of the playoffs. Had they not won that game, the Washington Capitals would have overtaken the Southeast and the Panthers would have dropped to the seventh seed.
This first-round matchup is a perfect example of exactly how big a difference momentum can make in the postseason. As mentioned before, the Devils have momentum completely on their side. The Panthers have to not only combat that, but they also have to try and regain some of their own momentum.
It seems Florida’s first playoff appearance in over a decade will be an unfortunate one. They’ve had a great season, but I expect the Devils to win the series in five games.