Panthers win division, draw Devils in Round 1
In clinching the first division title in franchise history on Saturday night, the Florida 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 Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.
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.
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 NHL will announce the first-round schedule on Sunday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)