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Devils glad to be home as Panthers come to town

by Mike G. Morreale

PANTHERS (21-20-8) at DEVILS (32-14-1)

Last 10 -- Florida 5-4-1; New Jersey 5-5-0

Season series -- Florida's Scott Clemmensen enjoyed a happy homecoming at the expense of Martin Brodeur and his former mates on Dec. 11 at PrudentialCenter, when he made 26 saves in a 4-2 victory over the Devils. New Jersey defeated the Panthers 3-2 in Sunrise, Fla., back on Oct. 10 in the only other meeting between the clubs.

Big story -- Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is preparing for life without Patrik Elias, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, for at least seven days. Elias took a heavy hit from Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson in the second period of a 3-1 loss to Colorado on Saturday and remained on the ice for several minutes before being taken off on a backboard. He received neck and spine X-rays -- both which came back negative. The recently named captain of the CzechRepublic's Olympic team has 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games for the Devils this season.

Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner thought Wilson's hit was clean.

"I saw it both (live and on replays)," Langenbrunner said. "Live I think everything seems like something happened, but I saw the replay of it and it was a clean hit. I think he just got himself into a little bit of an awkward position. Whitey (Colin White) said it best. That's part of when you play a team you don't know anything about. You don't know their players. You don't know what those guys do. That guy obviously can hit. If you're playing a team you see often, you know the players better. You know what to expect on the ice. It's unfamiliarity."

Team Scope

Panthers -- Prior to suffering a knee injury on Nov. 20 against Detroit, forward Cory Stillman was one of the team's top point producers. He returned to the lineup Dec. 31 against Montreal and has been finding his niche again -- recording 3 goals and 6 points over the last five games. Stillman notched a pair of goals in a 5-2 victory over TampaBay on Saturday. Since returning from his injury, the 15-season veteran has produced 8 points in 9 games. … Coach Peter DeBoer admitted defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and winger Kendal McArdle (shoulder) could return to the lineup against New Jersey. Center Stephen Weiss, who sat out Monday's victory over Atlanta with a lower body injury, might also return.

Devils -- New Jersey completed its season-high five-game road trip with three straight losses and a 2-3-0 record. The club certainly didn't help its cause on the power play. The Devils have gone 0-for-16 with the man advantage during their past six games, including an 0-for-2 effort in a 4-0 loss to the Islanders on Monday.

In an attempt to get the power-play untracked, Lemaire even had defenseman Colin White in front of the net at one point during a 0-for-4 showing against Colorado on Saturday.

"What I tried to do was get anybody that could maybe have a presence there," Lemaire said. "Our skilled players were not good with the puck, so I might as well go with the other guy on the power play."

At least the Devils are back home. Lemaire said his team looked tired while being dominated by the Islanders.

"We looked tired and I don't think we were sharp mentally making plays," he said. "There's no doubt we need rest."

Who's hot -- Florida's Rostislav Olesz has 5 goals and 6 points over the last five games while teammate Gregory Campbell has produced 2 goals and 3 points over his last four contests.

Injury report -- For the Panthers, forwards David Booth (concussion) and Nick Tarnasky (lower body) are out. The Devils are without forwards Elias (upper body), who was placed on injured reserve, David Clarkson (fractured right leg), Dainius Zubrus (broken kneecap) and defenseman Paul Martin (fractured left forearm).

Stat pack -- Right wing Jamie Langenbrunner, who was named captain for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, will be making his 500th career appearance as a Devil.

Puck drop -- The Devils will look to avert their first four-game losing streak of the season against the Panthers. Backup Yann Danis replaced Martin Brodeur in net to start the third period of the 4-0 loss to the Islanders on Monday -- after Brodeur allowed four goals on 32 shots despite a solid performance that saw him left to fend for himself for much of the afternoon. The Devils lost three in a row from Nov. 16-21 but hadn't lost two straight until the recent trip. Brodeur's benching marked the second time this season he was replaced by Danis -- the other came Dec. 19, when New Jersey rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. Brodeur has started the Devils' last 26 games.

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