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Defensemen help Devils dominate Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The goals keep coming for the New Jersey Devils, and they're taking advantage of them to get off to the kind of start they desperately wanted.

Defenseman Damon Severson had a goal and an assist in his second NHL game, helping the Devils build a four-goal, first-period lead in a 5-1 victory against the Florida Panthers at BB&T?Center on Saturday.

The Devils, who opened with a 6-4 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, have surpassed their victory total for their first 10 games of last season (1-5-4).

"It's important for this group,"???Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of a fast start. "It really killed us last year and we knew that. We also have to make sure we understand that a start isn't an entire season either. It's early, but I wouldn't trade the start or the feeling right now with the group."

Defenseman Eric Gelinas had a goal and an assist for the Devils; Martin Havlat, Mike Cammalleri and Ryane Clowe each had a goal. Devils defensemen combined for two goals and four assists in the first period.

With 11 goals, the Devils matched their highest two-game total to start a season (1991-92).

"We're playing with confidence,"???goalie Cory Schneider said. "We're playing with skill and speed. We're getting some good bounces, but I think it's because we're doing the right things and playing the right way. That's a result of that. Obviously it's pretty much not sustainable, but we're enjoying it while we can."

Saturday was the fourth time Schneider faced former Vancouver Canucks teammate Roberto Luongo in goal, but the first time Schneider came away with a win.

Luongo was pulled after giving up Clowe's goal at 2:54 of the second period. Luongo allowed five goals on 14 shots. Schneider, who was primarily Luongo's backup before he was traded to the Devils on June 30, 2013, made 28 saves.

"The first few were a couple of bad bounces off a shin pad and off our guy's shaft and redirections and in,"???Luongo said. "It was a tough start but no excuses. Have to keep the team in the game there and make a couple saves and I didn't do that. It's a disappointing effort on my part and [I] want to bounce back for Monday (against the Ottawa Senators)."

Derek MacKenzie scored a power-play goal for the Panthers, who had a four-game winning streak in home openers snapped.

The four-goal margin matched the worst home-opening loss in Panthers history. Florida lost 4-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 3, 2009, although that game was part of a home-and-home set in Finland. The Panthers' previous most lopsided loss at BB&T???Center in a home opener also came against the Devils, 4-1 on Oct. 6, 2007.

"We had a bad start to the hockey game,"???Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "It's tough to battle back against a team like New Jersey. It's disappointing. Some of their goals [Roberto is] in the net and there's too many guys in front of him. If you don't see shots you're not going to stop pucks. We didn't compete hard enough to win."

DeBoer is 7-3-1 against the Panthers, the team he coached for three seasons before being fired after the 2010-11 season.

All of New Jersey's goals in the first period came off long shots, starting with Gelinas' goal 2:37 into the game. Gelinas, who scored his first NHL???goal against Luongo on Oct. 24, 2013, took a low wrist shot from the left point that went through traffic and found its way to the far side.

Havlat and Cammalleri followed with power-play goals at 8:46 and 13:13. Havlat deflected Gelinas' shot from the right point and Cammalleri deflected Marek Zidlicky's one-timer from the top of the left circle.

Severson had the second assist on Cammalleri's goal for his first NHL???point. A second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft who made his debut against Philadelphia on Thursday, Severson scored his first NHL?????????goal with 27.8 seconds left in the first period when his harmless-looking wrist shot from the right point beat Luongo to the short side with Jaromir Jagr skating in front of him.

"Anytime you can get a shot off on the net and you get a rebound maybe or get a tip or something like that, that's what I was looking for, honestly,"?????????Severson said. "I just knew there was traffic in front, I?????????just tried to get the puck to the net and it ended up going in for me. So I was very happy."

DeBoer said, "He was trying not to smile coming back to the bench. It was pretty funny actually. He was trying as hard as possible not to crack one, but I?????????think we caught him. But good for him. It was great."

New Jersey took a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia but the Flyers tied the game before the Devils pulled away in the third period. This time, they maintained a comfortable margin throughout.

"Once we got up four, it was definitely a little bit of a sigh of relief, but still the game is not over,"?????????Severson said. "We came into the room between the second and third (periods) and realized that we had to buckle down and shut things down for the third period."

Clowe made it 5-0 when he redirected Michael Ryder's backhand pass to the front of the net, which brought in backup goalie Al Montoya for his first action with the Panthers. Montoya, one of six free agents signed by Florida on July 1, stopped all 10 shots he faced.

MacKenzie scored when he redirected Scottie Upshall's pass from the side of the net at 16:31 of the second period.

There was no scoring in the third period though Florida had four power-play opportunities. Florida ended up 1-for-8 with the man advantage; New Jersey was 2-for-5.

"That's as good a road game as we could have,"?????????DeBoer said. "We came in here, we knew this was their home opener and that they were going to come out ready to play. I liked our start. I?????????liked the fact that I?????????thought we really controlled the neutral zone for the first period and turned their mistakes into offense, which is what we have to do.

"I'm glad for the guys. We worked hard through camp and talked right from Day One about trying to get off to a good start here. I?????????like the fact we were better tonight than we were the other night in Philadelphia."

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