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posted: 4/8/2012 12:16 AM

Panthers win division, draw Devils in Round 1

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  • Florida Panthers' Erik Gudbranson, center, celebrates with teammates Saturday after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.

      Florida Panthers' Erik Gudbranson, center, celebrates with teammates Saturday after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

Center Stephen Weiss was quick to pass off the credit. He didn't want the attention.

But hey, when you play for the Florida Panthers for a decade, and you finally qualify for the playoffs, well, the last night of your 10th season is probably going to belong to you.

"I don't want it to be about me. I'm just happy for the guys," Weiss said. "It's not an easy place to play, with the weather, and it's not the biggest hockey market. You've got to stay focused during the dog days of the season and we did that."

In clinching the first division title in franchise history on Saturday, the Panthers closed the book on the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, securing the Southeast Division crown and the No. 3 postseason seed. They will meet the No. 6 New Jersey Devils in Round 1.

It'll be a reunion of sorts for several parties in both franchises. Florida center John Madden, who scored Saturday vs. the Hurricanes, began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was once a backup to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

On the other side, Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.

"Certainly I've been thinking about it, but we're not worried about that. We know what (DeBoer) brings and what type of style they play," Weiss said. "They're going to be tight defensively, you're not going to have a lot of ice and we're going to have to earn all of our chances. That's the way it's going to be in the playoffs throughout.

"But we're excited."

New Jersey, who missed the postseason for the first time since 1996 last year, won six straight games to close the regular season.

"It's one of the things we talked about. We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well. We've played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Now, the regular season is over.

"We will try to concentrate on the things we have to do. We did a good job staying focused. You never know what's going to happen. Now, we'll roll the dice, coming in hot."

The New York Rangers, who reserved the East top seed on Tuesday, will meet the No. 8 Ottawa Senators, who drifted down to the last seed after losing three in a row to close the year.

"I think we will look forward to starting the new season here. It's always a long year and a big grind. I can speak for myself, it's extremely satisfying being in the playoffs again. I am really looking forward to it," Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We'll have three or four days to get ready and get our legs going a little more. I think we'll bounce back and play some better hockey."

The other two East series feature the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins meeting the No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers, and the No. 2 Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, taking on the No. 7 Washington Capitals.

The Penguins and Flyers played twice in Pittsburgh in the regular-season's final seven days, splitting the pair.

"I think it's going to be a rough series. It won't be easy. They want to win as bad as us," Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. "We're a young team with a lot of injuries and we've got to make sure we go out there and outwork the Penguins. It's going to be a tough one."

And it will include Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who played in just 22 regular-season games. Crosby scored his eighth goal of the season Saturday, in the Penguins' 4-2 win over the Flyers.

"I expect a pretty intense series. If anything prior to this is any indication, that's pretty fair to say," Crosby said. "Those are the kind of series you want to be a part of."

The Bruins -- who raised the Stanley Cup last season after playing three seven-game series -- again won the Northeast Division this year, and seemed headed toward a date with Ottawa until the Senators slid. Instead, they get Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, who were the No. 1 seed in the East last season.

"Our number one goal is the same it's been every year, and that's to make the playoffs. And, I always keep saying the same thing over and over, that making the playoffs is a tough thing to do on a consistent basis," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We've seen teams that have won the Cup and failed to make the playoffs the next year. We've seen teams win the Cup and just barely make it in.

"For us, to win our division and get another season of over 100 points, I think it's a credit to those guys in there because it was a tough grind. We had ups and downs, but now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about, and we've got as good a chance as anybody else to win."

The NHL will announce the first-round schedule on Sunday.

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