SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers expect to have their No. 1 goalie and highest goal-scoring defenceman in the lineup for their biggest game of the season.
Jose Theodore, who missed Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New Jersey Devils after tweaking a minor knee injury, and Jason Garrison, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, should return for Game 7 on Thursday night at the BankAtlantic Center.
“Garrison and Theodore looked positive this morning,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “That’s encouraging for our team.”
Scott Clemmensen played Game 6 in New Jersey and played admirably in a 3-2 overtime loss, as he faced 42 Devils shots.
On the small chance that Theodore is ruled out, Clemmensen will make his third start of the series.
Garrison scored 16 goals during the regular season. If he plays, he will provide the Panthers with a presence on the power play, given his one-timer that Florida likes to set up.
For the Devils, facing Theodore won’t be disruptive, even though he shut them out in Game 5.
“Not really,” Devils forward Patrik Elias said whether he had any thoughts on facing Theodore. “He has been playing solid. Last game he had a really good game here against us, but it is more about us and the way we have to play.”
Martin Brodeur, who has a 5-4 record in Game 7s, will be in goal for the Devils.
Panthers forward Stephen Weiss hadn’t played in an NHL playoff game prior to Game 1 of this series, let alone a Game 7, and acknowledged he was going to have a hard time getting to sleep for his pre-game nap. Though Weiss played in Game 7s during his OHL career with the Plymouth Whalers, he pointed to a couple of other memories that did not involve him as a player.
“Probably two of them,” Weiss, a Toronto native, said. “The Rangers winning in 1994, being somewhat of a family friend with Adam Graves, it was good to see him win that. And I remember being at the SkyDome in Toronto (to watch on the Jumbotron) for Game 7 when the Leafs played L.A. (in 1993). They ended up losing, and it was a bad memory, but a cool experience going to watch that. It was terrible. About 60,000 people felt the same way I did.”
If the Devils lose, it could be the last game in a New Jersey sweater for captain Zach Parise, who is an unrestricted free agent in July. That was not on Parise’s mind following the morning skate.
“The expectations are just to win,” Parise said. “You don’t want to try to go out there and do too much. We have to play like we did the last game, with the desperation we had. We can’t afford to come out lifeless without any energy.”
Perhaps Panthers rookie defenceman Erik Gudbranson put it best.
“It’s a one-game series now and there is no screwing around out there,” Gudbranson said. “You just have to do your job and not come back into the room with anything left. We know it is going to be an absolute war out there tonight.”