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Devils go for season sweep of Lightning

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (29-25-13) at LIGHTNING (35-24-7)


Last 10: New Jersey 6-4-0; Tampa Bay 3-5-2

Season series: This is the third and final game between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils won the first two, played at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Martin Brodeur, who will face the Lightning on Saturday, has stopped 49 of 50 shots and earned his 124th career shutout in a 3-0 win on Dec. 14.

Big story: It wasn't easy, but the Lightning won Thursday for the first time in a half-dozen games and will attempt to string consecutive victories together as a six-game homestand winds down. The Devils finish off a back-to-back through the state of Florida before heading home to play 10 of their final 14 games.

Team Scope:

Devils: The finale of a three-game road trip becomes all the more important after New Jersey let a 3-1 lead slip away Friday and lost 5-3 to a Florida Panthers team that's out of the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Cory Schneider, who allowed as many as three goals just once in a span of 15 starts from Dec. 28-Feb. 27, gave up at least four goals for a third consecutive start.

As a team, the Devils have struggled defensively during their past half-dozen games, giving up an average of four goals. They've managed a split of those six by improving offensively, scoring 3.33 goals per game -- up from their season average of 2.47. But playing .500 down the stretch doesn't figure to make up the ground that will be necessary to get into the postseason.

"That one hurts, but we've got to pick up," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got another game tomorrow. We have an opportunity to win two out of three, and that's how we have to approach it."

Lightning: Was it coincidence Steven Stamkos hadn't scored a goal since his return and Tampa Bay hadn't won during that span? Maybe, maybe not, but Stamkos got on the board in his fourth game back; his third-period goal, which gave the Lightning a 5-2 lead, turned out to be the game-winner in a hold-onto-your-seats 5-4 victory against the Panthers.

"It's two more points than we had and we're pretty excited about it," coach Jon Cooper said. "Wins are paramount, but you have to munch points, and we've munched four out of a possible six in the last three games (1-0-2). I like where we are headed."

The Lightning host the Vancouver Canucks on Monday before going on the road for five of seven, but they get another six-game homestand to start April and are 18-8-5 at Tampa Bay Times Forum entering Saturday.

Who's hot: Devils forward Jaromir Jagr has three goals and three assists during a five-game point streak. Forward Travis Zajac has two goals and three assists during a three-game point streak. Forward Patrik Elias has four goals and seven assists over his past eight games. … Lightning forward Tyler Johnson has four goals and one assist during a five-game point streak. Forwards Ondrej Palat (three goals, three assists) and Valtteri Filppula (one goal, four assists) have three-game point streaks.

Injury report: Neither team has any new injuries to report entering the game.

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