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Brodeur returns to start as Devils face Panthers

by Brian Hunter /

DEVILS (26-31-4) at PANTHERS (26-28-7)


Last 10: 
New Jersey 8-1-1; Florida 4-5-1

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the season between these teams. Florida sandwiched a pair of overtime victories -- with Dmitry Kulikov and Rostislav Olesz netting the decisive goals -- around a 5-2 win by New Jersey on Jan. 23, a game in which Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal and assisted on two others.

Big story:
 The Panthers have been responsible for half of the Devils' losses during their 16-2-2 stretch. With the trade deadline on Monday, this could be the last game  in their current uniform for Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun and New Jersey center Jason Arnott, among others. The Panthers made a deal Saturday, sending captain Bryan McCabe to the Rangers for Tim Kennedy and a third-round draft pick.

Team Scope:

Devils: Word is that New Jersey will turn back to Martin Brodeur in net after a sparkling eight-game run by Johan Hedberg finally saw the Devils defeated, 2-1 by the Lightning on Friday. Brodeur hasn't played since injuring his knee on Feb. 6 in Montreal. The Devils hadn't lost in regulation since Jan. 26 in Detroit, but they managed only a Mark Fayne third-period goal against Tampa and goalie Dwayne Roloson.

"Mathematically, we're still in the hunt," forward Dainius Zubrus said. "I don't think it's going to change our approach for the next game."

Panthers: One day after being placed on waivers and going unclaimed, Steve Bernier found himself the hero after scoring in the sixth round of a shootout Friday night in Atlanta, giving Florida a critical 2-1 victory. Marty Reasoner and Blake Wheeler traded goals in regulation, then Mike Santorelli and Wheeler lit the lamp early in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, setting things up for Bernier. Vokoun made 45 saves in a brilliant effort.

"I thought we were refocused and came with a real good work ethic tonight," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We faced a lot of adversity, but we had a lot of contributions."

Who's hot: Kovalchuk has 7 goals and 7 assists during a career-high 12-game points streak for the Devils. Hedberg has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his last eight starts.

Injury report: New Jersey has forward Zach Parise (knee) and defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion), Matt Taormina (ankle) and Matthew Corrente (shoulder) on injured reserve. ... Florida lost Olesz to a knee injury and fellow forward Chris Higgins to a hand injury Friday. They're day-to-day along with forward Ryan Carter (back) and defenseman Dennis Wideman (undisclosed). Forward Jack Skille (ankle) is out indefinitely. Kulikov (ankle) and forwards Evgeny Dadonov (hand) and Shawn Matthias (ankle) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Fayne now leads Devils defensemen with 4 goals despite having played in only 36 NHL games this season. His plus-6 rating also leads team blueliners. ... Eighteen of the Panthers' last 22 games have been decided by one goal.

Puck drop: Brodeur has never finished with a record below .500 in his previous 17 seasons with New Jersey. He is currently 13-19-2 but was rounding into form at the time of his injury, with an 8-1-1 record in his last 10 starts.

"It will be fun to get back," he told the Newark Star-Ledger. "It's nice getting ready for a game instead of just showing up."

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