NEWARK, N.J. — Establishing a playoff presence on home ice is paramount for the New Jersey Devils, Patrik Elias figured, but it’s not going to happen with the Devils’ collective snap of the fingers.
“We still have in our minds what we accomplished at the Meadowlands (the Devils’ old arena),” Elias said after the morning skate on Tuesday. “We have to create that energy here. It just does not come naturally. Even for the fans — they need to experience something special and we need to give them reason to do so.”
The Devils and Florida Panthers meet in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center, with the series tied 1-1.
Since moving a few miles south to the new rink in 2007, the Devils have not won a playoff series. They missed the post-season last spring and in the three previous years were eliminated in the first round.
“It’s pretty loud in here,” Panthers forward Kris Versteeg said. “I’ve played a lot of regular-season games in here where it has been pretty crazy and I have never played here in a playoff series, but I expect it to be just as nuts. Come playoffs, every building has the energy (the fans) give their team.”
Whether the ice is factor won’t be known until the game. But Panthers coach Kevin Dineen didn’t like what he saw during the morning skate.
“If the ice is anything like it was this morning, it will make for a very sloppy game,” Dineen said. “It’s no fun for the fans. There was a lot of water out there.”
It’s likely that Panthers forward Wojtek Wolski will be a healthy scratch for Game 3 and that he will be replaced in the lineup by Jerred Smithson.
“We’re always tinkering with our options and deciding what is best for the team,” Dineen said. “Little adjustments here and there over the course of the series are always going to happen, and that is one we feel (is right) to make right now.
“(Smithson) has given us some good minutes. When you get healthy, you have all of these quality options, and you spend a day making these decisions, and sometimes those are last-minute decisions.”
Wolski averaged 10 minutes 24 seconds in the first two games of the series, the second-lowest of any Panther. He is minus-1 and has no points.
Smithson has played in 31 NHL playoff games, all with the Nashville Predators.
Neither head coach in this series is worried about matching lines.
“You get into a matching game, the other team dictates when our players are on the ice, and that’s not a situation I’ve traditionally believed in,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “We wanted to build a team that could comfortably play all four lines.”
Said Dineen, drawing a laugh: “I’m a much better coach on the road, because I don’t have to match (as the home team has the last change). I can just roll four lines.”
Elias spent Monday afternoon at the Central Park Zoo in New York City with his family. “I was watching the penguins getting fed,” Elias said, then added: “Not those penguins!” Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins have spent three games getting fed by the Philadelphia Flyers and trail that series 3-0 … The leading scorers in the Devils/Panthers series are Panthers forwards Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson, who have three points each. Safe to assume neither of them were picked for many post-season pools. Only one Devil, Dainius Zubrus, has two points.