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As the playoffs drew near, most teams had their final lineups set for Game 1 fairly early. We were able to analyze their regular season numbers and determine who had the advantage heading into the first round.
But the Panthers kept quiet until just before Game 1 as coach Kevin Dineen had a difficult decision to make regarding his starting goaltender.
Either start Jose Theodore, the playoff-tested netminder who held the No. 1 position for most of the regular season or veteran backup Scott Clemmensen, who played well down the stretch and helped the Panthers clinch their first Southeast Division title.
In the days leading up the series, many — myself included — speculated that Theodore might be on the shortest leash of any starting goaltender in the playoffs.
In their matchup with the Devils, the Panthers would need stellar goaltending to stay competitive with a well-balanced opponent capable of scoring quick goals and shutting down offenses.
With Clemmensen's record against his former team a perfect 4-0 and the team's overall struggles playing in front of Theodore in their last 10, some believed one bad period from Theodore would lead to a switch to Clemmensen.
Fortunately for Panthers fans, that assessment was wrong. Dineen stuck with Theodore even after he gave up three goals on 26 shots in the opening period of Game 1. Mostly a result of poor play in front of him, Dineen stuck with his No. 1 and was rewarded as Jose shut the door for the rest of the game as Florida fell in Game 1 by a score of 3-2.
In Game 2 Dineen was rewarded again for sticking with Theodore, who stayed strong in net and helped protect an early 3-0 lead, eventually winning the game 3-2.
For the playoffs Jose Theodore has a .921 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA, outdueling his counterpart for New Jersey, Martin Brodeur, who sports a .898 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA.
If Theodore can continue this high level of play on the road, there's a good chance we see more plastic rats on the ice when the series shifts back to Sunrise.