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Pierre McGuire's Breakdown
New Jersey    Florida 
They weren't been very good down the stretch, but the Devils have the kind of consistent performers many teams lack. Scott Niedermayer's return will create transition offense, but Alexander Mogilny needs to get into gear.  OFFENSE

The Edge:
  

Sure they've got Pavel Bure, but they also have that Ray Whitney guy who doesn't get nearly enough credit. If the Panthers expect to beat the Devils, though, they will need their defense to chip in on offense. 

Known for years as a defensive team, the Devils have fallen off just a little bit this year. Look for Vladimir Malakhov to be a force in this series, and for Scott Stevens to get a steady diet of Bure.  DEFENSE

The Edge:
  

Robert Svehla must play to his potential. Hard-as-a-rock defensemen Lance Pitlick and Todd Simpson will have to be aggressive but smart. One thing to watch is how committed the forwards are to helping out in their own end. 

It's time for Martin Brodeur to get the job done. His puckhandling should be a factor because the Panthers will probably be forced to shoot the puck in when the Devils turn the neutral zone a minefield.  IN GOAL

The Edge:
  

Mike Vernon has won playoff rounds (and a couple Cups) before, but in this series he will have all kinds of traffic in his face. 

Jason Arnott and his gun make the unit a force. The passing skills of Scott Gomez and the playmaking of Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora don't hurt, either.  PP

The Edge:
  None  

Very solid, and if Jaroslav Spacek can get his shot on net consistently it will only get better. The passing ability of Whitney can make this unit special. 

John Madden has become one of the best in the league, and Larry Robinson knows how to get his players into the right position.   PK

The Edge:
   

The Panthers have a tendency to try to score while short-handed, and that's a factor Florida's opponents take into account. Pitlick will have to be huge on this unit down low. 

Larry Robinson is very popular with his squad, but has he had enough time to whip them into shape?  COACH

The Edge:
  None  

Give Terry Murray credit for keeping this team alive after the Caps passed them in the standings. Murray-coached teams love to catch opponents in bad line changes. 

They have size, grit and speed. They also had better have passion if they're going to win this series. Young legs of Scott Gomez and Madden may help. So may the suspension of Niedermayer, who will return in Game 2 with fresh legs.  INTANGIBLES

The Edge:
   

Do the Panthers have enough depth to get the job done? Probably not, but they did make an aquistion at the deadline that fills one of their most pressing needs: Mike Sillinger, a centerman who can win draws. 

The M & M factor -- Malakhov and Mogilny -- better be up to par. Facing Bure will certainly get their attention. Bobby Holik has to be a more consistent physical presence than he has been lately.  X-FACTOR

The Edge:
   

The big players need to win battles on the boards, especially when they are in New Jersey. Grinding will be a big part of what the Devils want to do, so it will be important for the Panthers to get the puck to the middle of the ice as quickly as possible. 
McGuire's Prediction: N.J. in 5
 
Pierre McGuire is a former NHL head coach and a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated and CNNSI.com.


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