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Schneider, Devils set to battle Cats

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

The Devils are looking to keep a good thing going in the Sunshine State.

Winners of two in a row, they take aim at their second, season-high three-game winning streak of the season when they visit the Panthers on Friday.

It would be their first run of three straight since Nov. 16-21, when they topped Pittsburgh at the Rock and followed it up with overtime wins at Anaheim and Los Angeles.

With just 16 to go in the regular season, a long winning streak couldn't come at a better time. The Devils have taken five of seven since the Olympic break, including four wins versus divisional opponents.

“We’ve been talking about that for awhile, that we need to string some wins together,” coach Peter DeBoer said after Thursday's practice. “Whether it’s three in a row or four out of five or seven out of nine, we’ve just got to keep climbing here and putting points in the bank. The reality is, we’re not going to win every game the rest of the season. You can’t get too high or too low on the results as long as we’re consistently putting points in the bank."

Cory Schneider will make his first start since last Friday, when he allowed a career-high seven goals in Detroit. He’s hoping to end a personal two-game slide.

“You get out what you put in,” Schneider said of his time off between starts. “For me, I look at it as an opportunity to maybe work on some stuff, do some puck handling, just fine-tune my game, and try to fix anything that hasn’t been going well the last two starts. I felt really good in practice and I haven’t thought about my last game at all. I’m in a good state of mind and excited to go play and do what I can.”

With Dan Ellis starting Florida’s meeting with Tampa Bay on Thursday, Schneider’s likely to face his former Canucks teammate Roberto Luongo for the first time since the March 4 deal that sent Luongo back to the Panthers.

Luongo has claimed a pair of 3-2 wins versus Schneider this season: in overtime at Vancouver on Oct. 8, then in a shootout at Prudential Center on Oct. 24.

“A lot’s happened since then,” Schneider said. “I’m sure it was strange for him to see me in a different jersey, but it’ll be strange for me to see him in a different jersey, although it’s the same one that I grew up watching him in when he was with Florida.

"He’s an elite goalie in this League and he’s going to give them a chance to win every night, so we have to be really sharp against him.”

The Devils (29-24-13, 71 pts) are knocking on the door. As of Thursday, they were tied with Detroit, two points behind Philadelphia for the second wild card spot in the East, and two in back of Columbus for third in the Metropolitan Division.

"I think that’s exactly where we’re at,” DeBoer said. “Hey, we’d love to win every game the rest of the way. This is going to be a sprint right to the finish line. I think that’s the reality. I don’t think there’s going to be a ton of separation here. The good news is we’ve given ourselves a chance to be in that race to the finish line.”

The three-game road trip concludes Saturday night in Tampa Bay. The Devils' vintage red and green uniforms return on Tuesday, when Boston visits for the start of a season-high five-game homestand at Prudential Center.

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