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Devils look to bounce back at Florida

by Mike Battaglino /

DEVILS (15-11-8) at PANTHERS (10-19-6)

TV: MSG PLUS, FS-Florida

Last 10: New Jersey 4-3-3; Florida 3-7-0

Season series: This is the second of three meetings, with the New Jersey Devils winning 2-1 at home last Saturday. The teams play again April 20 in Newark.

Big story: Each team has dealt with injuries to key players, but the Devils have managed to hang on to a potential Stanley Cup Playoff spot while the Florida Panthers have fallen to last place in the Eastern Conference.

Team Scope:

Devils: New Jersey lost its second straight without injured forward Ilya Kovalchuk, though by losing in a shootout they left both games with a point. The 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday came after the Devils led 4-2 in the third period.

"We got a point; it's unfortunate we didn't get two," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got to take the positives out of it and get ready for tomorrow."

The Devils have held opponents to 25 shots or fewer in 15 straight games, a streak that includes six overtime periods. The Devils have at least a point in all four games goaltender Martin Brodeur has played since returning from a pinched nerve in his back (2-0-2).

"He's the best in the business and he gives you a chance to win or get points every night," DeBoer said. "We've got to do a better job of closing and turning these ones into twos, but that's what he does."

The Devils spent three days between games in Florida, but Saturday will be the second of three games in four nights.

"A couple days [off] is always nice, especially in Florida," forward Matt D'Agostini said. "You get to sit and relax and focus. It's been a lot of games, a long season, so whenever you get some time it's good to take advantage of [it]."

Panthers: Florida has lost 210 man-games to injury, but the Panthers are 3-3-0 since a 1-7-2 stretch. A 5-4 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday was their second victory of the season after regulation.

"When we battled back, it really shows our character," defenseman Dmitry Kulikov told the team's website Friday. "[It was] just a good feeling in the locker room after the win and coming in the next day with a happy feeling, smile on your face. … I think that does a lot to our confidence, feeling good going into the next game."

Florida led 2-0 before trailing 3-2 and 4-3. A newly formed line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Shawn Matthias and Peter Mueller combined for three goals and six points, including a pair of tying goals in the third period.

"I think first of all, we should maintain our lead," Kulikov said. "If we have a 2-0 lead, we should keep playing the way we've been playing like when we got that lead. We can't let off and have teams score and take momentum back. We have to keep pushing."

Before the game, the Panthers learned captain Ed Jovanovski will have surgery on his hip and miss the rest of the season.

"It's a little bit of a pile on of the story we've told too many times this year," coach Kevin Dineen said. "We move forward, but your captain is always an important piece of the puzzle, so he'll be missed."

Who's hot: With three points Friday, Devils defensemen have 19 in the past nine games. … Matthias has seven goals in his past 14 games, giving him a career-high 12. Huberdeau's 13 goals are three more than any other NHL rookie.

Injury report: Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador (lower body) and forward Stephen Gionta (upper body) played Friday after leaving the game Monday. Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky (lower body) returned after a 10-day absence. Forward Dainius Zubrus (wrist) could be back within a week. Kovalchuk (shoulder) and defenseman Henrik Tallinder (ankle) are out. … Panthers forward George Parros (upper body) could return Saturday. Forwards Jack Skille (upper body), Kris Versteeg (knee) and Stephen Weiss (wrist), defenseman Mike Weaver (lower body) and goaltender Jose Theodore (groin) are on injured reserve.

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