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Florida Panthers, Believe it or Not, Have Plenty of Postseason Experience ... John Madden to Play in 135th Playoff Game

PanthersSClogoBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

By just looking at the team logo, it would appear the Florida Panthers are inexperienced newbies going into their first round playoff matchup against the Devils.

After all, goalie Martin Brodeur has helped lead New Jersey to three Stanley Cup championships since 1995. The Devils are definitely more experienced in Broduercupthe postseason than the Panthers – who haven't been to the playoffs since 2000 – right?

Actually, it's a lot closer than one may think.
Although the Panthers organization hasn't been around playoff hockey in over a decade, the players wearing their uniforms have more than a passing acquaintance with the process.

Of Florida's 20 regulars likely to suit up for Friday's opener, 15 have participated in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Eight have participated in more than 30 postseason games. 

Five players have won the Stanley Cup – two more than once. 

“We're trying to make new history here in Florida,'' said Brian Campbell, who helped Chicago win the Cup Campbellcupin 2010. “We have plenty of playoff experience here and we've been able to share those experiences and talk to guys if they have any questions. We're all going to be ready to go.''

Center John Madden is Florida's most experienced playoff veteran as Friday will be his 135th postseason game. Madden, who hoisted the Cup twice with the Devils, said he felt the nerves when he made his postseason debut on April 13, 2000 – 12 years ago Friday – in East Rutherford, N.J. 

“It feels a lot longer than that,'' Madden said. “But I remember it like it was yesterday. It was like my first game.''

Madden didn't seem overwhelmed in his second game as he picked up a pair of assists in the Devils' 2-1 victory over – ahem -- the Panthers.

New Jersey swept Florida in that opening round series and the Panthers haven't been back since. Until now.

“It's a good feeling walking around this room and knowing how much the guys in here have won over Maddencupthe years,'' Madden said. “We have guys who have won big games. But we also have some youth, guys chomping at the bit. Everyone here is going to play a role in our success. You believe in everyone you put on the ice, and you respect everyone they put on the ice. It's a hockey game.''

Coach Kevin Dineen, himself a veteran of 59 playoff games with Hartford, Philadelphia and Carolina, said he is glad to be able to lean on so many players who have “been there, done that,'' as playoff rookie Stephen Weiss said. 

“I've had them share those experiences,'' Dineen said. “It is a different style of hockey. Watch the games [Wednesday]; the play is just ramped up. It is like a whole different world out there. And there were some good lessons out there, Pittsburgh came out gangbusters and Philadelphia found a way to come back. Every game has meaning, every play has meaning. Veteran leaders who have been through this is meaningful for the whole group.''

Weiss will be making his long-awaited postseason debut on Friday after playing in 637 regular season games – all with the Panthers. 

Although Weiss hasn't been in the postseason since his junior days, Dineen said he “is the least of my worries. .-.-. He's old enough where this isn't overwhelming to him. This is something he's looking at as a fabulous opportunity.'' Dineen admits some younger players such as Shawn Matthias, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson could be overwhelmed a bit by the pace and style of play in their first playoff season. 

If they are, they will have plenty of support. 

“Look how long it took to get into the playoffs,'' Weiss said. “I'm not just happy to be here, I want to keep playing. Once you're in, you have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. With that in the back of your mind, you want to keep going. Every team pushes to make a run. We're no different.''

WeissSE“We have guys who have been there, done that. Guys have won the Cup. New Jersey has those guys as well. At the end of the day, it's a hockey game. I know how to play hockey. I'm just going out to do my thing. You know it's going to be a little tighter, you have to earn your ice. That's fun, what playoff hockey is all about.''