Friday, April 20, 2012

Panthers going back to Theodore for Game 5 (According to CBC writer, no official announcement)

By Jay Greenberg

In what seems like the cleanest series ever played, the Panthers may also have gotten out of New Jersey with Jose Theodore's confidence unsoiled. When the Devils scored three goals, none of them particularly bad ones, within the first 6:16 of Game 3, coach Kevin Dineen had a fast hook and, it turned out, a charmed life as the Panthers rode Scott Clemmensen to an unlikely 4-3 victory.

Dineen, self-deprecating about his lack of NHL playoff coaching experience, has at least read Page 1 of the manual: If it isn't broke, don't fix it. Clemmensen, the 34-year-old career backup who had the only two victories the Panthers managed on in their last 10 regular season games, got his first NHL post-season start in Game 4 and was ordinary in a 4-0 loss that now begs another change for Game 5 Saturday night in Sunrise, Fla.

So while you can tie Dineen to the net, pelt him with rubber rats, make him watch Wojtek Wolski penalty videos until he screams and still not get him to admit to his goaltending plans until game time, Theodore will be in goal for better or worse and, probably until the end of the series.

He was excellent under the Devils' 26 shot barrage in the first period of Game 1. And good enough, after New Jersey scored two quick goals early in Game 2 to hang on for a 3-2 Florida win. So it's going to take another Devils' early-game flurry to drive the more talented of the two Panther goalies, representing the best hope for the less talented of the two teams, from the nets again.

"We know we are going home with two of three at home so we're in pretty good shape," said Stephen Weiss, who, as the oldest surviving Panther, clings longingly to the concept of a home-ice advantage that no longer seems to exist in the NHL.

Weiss sounds desperate

Then again, if Weiss, Florida's best player, sounds desperate, the steady-as-they-go Panthers, who roped the Devils' dopes into a 2-1 series deficit largely on the strength of the power play, could use some urgency now that it is 2-2.

"We didn't seem to have the desperation they had, even though we were down only one goal and we still thought it was a winnable game," said Dineen. "It seemed we were out of sorts in the third and couldn't establish our offensive game.

"We weren't very accurate and were just trying to get some shots on net and create some rebounds instead of scoring on the shot and that's not a very good formula against a goalie like [Martin Brodeur]. We made it an easy game for him."

The Devils have more means to make it a hard game for the Panthers than vice versa. They also have the more accomplished goalie, who in Game 4 got back to the top of his crease and game after also getting yanked in Game 3. So it would seem New Jersey is back in control as the series becomes a best two-of-three, but of course that can change on a bounce if Florida can capitalize.

"We learned from this game we have to play the full 60 minutes," said Tomas Kopecky. "At the beginning of the third period we let down. You have to be relentless on both sides.

"The bottom line is you have to outwork the guy across from you."

That has not been the case so far and is not likely going forward. In the series the Panthers have four even-strength goals, one of them, into an empty net. The Devils, their NHL-record-setting penalty killing of 89 per cent having plummeted to 40 per cent in the first three games, stopped all five Florida man-advantages in Game 4 and seemed to regain their mojo.

If that is the case, you wonder how Florida has the means to win this five-on-five, unless it is by scores of 2-1, always a possibility should Theodore ride back to the rescue.

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