The harbinger of recent history isn't much different. After a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on March 25, New Jersey finished with six wins the longest active streak of any NHL team heading into the playoffs. The Panthers won just twice in their last 10 regular-season contests.
Rarely do all signs point a victory for the team that opens a series on the road the way they do here, but the disparity isn't as great as it seems. The teams split four games during the regular season, with New Jersey torching Florida for an unPanther-like five goals on Jan. 6. Both are more offensive than they have been in the past, and they had to be. Yes, New Jersey is the league's second-stingiest team in shots-allowed per game (26.8), but it's also aware of recent history. The Devils have won only two playoff series since their last championship year, leaving some to wonder if the club has relied too much on its defensive formula of smothering opponents that once served them well, but is not always the soundest strategy in today's game.
The Devils had three 30-goal scorers this season, including a surprise -- strongman David Clarkson -- but they rely heavily on 37-goal man Ilya Kovalchuk, who logged 28 more minutes of power-play time than any other player in the league.
The Panthers were the only team in the NHL to designate not one, but four rotating captains: Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kopecky and Stephen Weiss. Only one Panther, Tomas Fleischmann, cracked the 60-point barrier this season. Goalie Jose Theodore has been generally good, but he allowed 15 goals in his last four starts and will need to be better for the Panthers to go beyond their first-ever division title.