The New Jersey Devils will take on the Florida Panthers in Game 1 on Friday night and judging by their head-to-head record this season, (the two teams split their four regular season contests, with one of the Devils wins coming in a shootout), this should be an interesting and competitive series.
Despite the relatively even outcome of these two teams match-ups this season, this series really is a tale of two very different clubs heading in two very different directions.
New Jersey enters the playoffs on a six game winning streak, which has seen them average 3.6 goals per game during that period, while the Panthers have lost five of their last six, and gave the appearance that neither they nor the Washington Capitals had any interest in winning the Southeast Division title.
These are the Stanley Cup playoffs, though, and as we've seen countless times in the past, anything can happen.
Here are the five keys to the Devils winning their opening round series against Florida.
Ilya Kovalchuk leads the Devils potent offensive attack
The Devils have always been known as an organization that played a defensive-minded brand of hockey. This season however, they're in the unaccustomed position of being something of an offensive powerhouse.
Three Devils (Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and the surprising David Clarkson) registered at least 30 goals this season, with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora logging 20+ each. New Jersey has been clicking offensively heading into the playoffs, and if they continue to do so, Florida will have a hard time stopping all that firepower.
The Devils set a post-lockout penalty kill pct. record this season
Brodeur has been through many a playoff war
Much has been made of the decline of Martin Brodeur, but he's still among the best in the NHL when he's on his game.
Brodeur posted a solid season this year, posting a respectable 31-21-4 record and 2.41 GAA.
Even if Brodeur completely implodes, which is about as likely as waking up tomorrow morning with your head sewn to the carpet, there is "old reliable," Johan Hedberg. The veteran Swede has been more than adequate when spelling Brodeur this season, turning in a 17-7-2/2.23 GAA performance.
Kris Versteeg and his linemates are Florida's only real scoring threat
Florida's first line, consisting of Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss, registered a combined seven goals in their four regular season meetings with the Devils.
Unfortunately, that line is the only bullet in the Panthers' gun.
The Devils will focus on shutting down the Weiss line, Florida's only legitimate scoring threat.
If New Jersey’s blue liners, led by Bryce Salvador, late-season acquisition Marek Zidlicky and hard-hitting Anton Volchenkov, can neutralize that trio, Florida will struggle to put anything in the net.
Veteran Petr Sykora returned to the Devils this season
New Jersey's roster features several grizzled veterans, including Brodeur, Patrik Elias and forward Petr Sykora, who have won a combined seven Stanley Cup Championships (six with New Jersey).
The veteran leadership and big-game experience that these players possess will prove invaluable.
The Panthers home ice advantage could be enough for them to steal a game, but in the end the Devils have too much firepower.
New Jersey in 5 games.