The Florida Panthers won their first-ever Southeast Division title tonight, earning themselves a surprise third seed. That will give the surprise upstart from Sunrise home ice advantage in the first round, but many will probably choose the sixth seed New Jersey Devils as the odds-on favorite. There are plenty of reasons to think that way, but here are a few:
- The Devils carry virtually all of the biggest names in this series, from Martin Brodeur to Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
- New Jersey finished this season with a +19 goal differential; Florida’s -24 is by far the worst of any playoff team (in fact, it’s fifth-worst in the East).
- Sure, the Devils feasted on three-point games in their own right (12 shootout wins), but that’s nothing compared to Florida milking 18 charity points out of this season.
And that’s just the simplest stuff.
Still, the two teams tied their season series 2-2, so it’s not like New Jersey dominated Florida in 2011-12. Oh yeah, there’s also an interesting storyline for those who always want to find a juicy narrative: former Panthers coach Peter DeBoer sits behind the Devils bench. Surely he’d enjoy a little revenge on the team that didn’t give him a great chance to succeed, wouldn’t he?