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Devils' Schneider, Panthers' Luongo face off again

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- For Cory Schneider, facing Roberto Luongo is nothing new. But there's a different twist to their third goaltending battle of the season.

Nine months after they were teammates with the Vancouver Canucks, Friday will mark their first game as opponents in a game that doesn't involve the Canucks. Schneider will be starting for the New Jersey Devils, Luongo for the Florida Panthers.

"It's the third time I've played him this year. I???think it's the most I've played any other goalie this year," Schneider said after the Devils' optional skate. "It's becoming old news. Maybe we'll become good rivals. Who knows?"

Luongo, who did not play in the Panthers' 5-4 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, was among a small group of players who skated Friday morning. Schneider took advantage of the occasion to go catch up.

Schneider said the two became friends in Vancouver even though their battle for playing time was a hot topic of debate among Canucks fans. Little did anyone know Vancouver would go from having both goalies on its roster to having neither.

"We respected each other, we believed in one another," Schneider said. "If he was in the net or I was in the net, we felt the team had a chance to win. That makes it a lot easier when you respect the other guy. We just kind of did what was natural, which is be friendly and get along.

"A???year or two ago this didn't really seem like a likely outcome, but it's what it is. Obviously newer for him. I've been enjoying my time in Jersey and enjoying my teammates so I've had a long time to sort of move on. I'm sure it's a little different for him right now, but much the same since he's spent a lot of his career here. It's a funny game; things happen and you just sort of have to adjust on the fly and move on."

Luongo got the better of Schneider in their two previous meetings this season, with the Canucks winning 3-2 in overtime at Vancouver on Oct. 8 and 3-2 in a shootout at New Jersey 16 days later.

For Schneider, facing his former goalie partner again is secondary to trying to recapture the form he showed before the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Acquired in late June in a trade for the ninth pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Schneider had a 1.85 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage at the break. After giving up two goals on 19 shots in his first post-Olympic start, Schneider allowed 11 goals on 55 shots in his past two starts.

In his most recent game, Schneider let in seven goals on 33 shots in a 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on March 7.

Martin Brodeur started New Jersey's past two games, victories against the Carolina Hurricanes (5-4) and the Philadelphia Flyers (2-1).

Schneider started the Devils' seven games before the Olympic break and has started three of the seven games since.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer said he hasn't thought all season in terms of No. 1 and No. 2 goalies, and Brodeur will be back in net Saturday when the Devils visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We didn't start Schneider based on who they were starting," DeBoer said of the game against Florida. "We didn’t know when Luongo was going to play. Obviously both guys have a history. We all know what that is. I'm sure they're both excited to play.

"I???like where [Schneider is] at. He had an excellent week of practice. He was lights-out fantastic going into the Olympic break … and with two or three weeks off I???thought, like a lot of guys, was a little bit rusty but still played fairly well. He looks to me like he's back to where he was when he was on that run before the Olympic break, in practice. I expect a good game out of him [Friday]."

Three Devils skipped the optional skate: defenseman Andy Greene and forwards Patrik Elias and Michael Ryder, who hasn't scored a goal in 20 games.

Devils forward Tuomo Ruutu, acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, was on the ice Friday after flying in from North Carolina, where his wife gave birth to their second daughter.

DeBoer will be going for his 200th NHL win Friday. Of his first 199, 103 came in three seasons with the Panthers. Three years removed from his firing by the Panthers in 2011, DeBoer had good thoughts for current coach Peter Horachek.

"This will always be a special place because it's my first job," DeBoer said. "It looks eerily familiar to the last year I was here, the last couple of years. Upon reflection and watching, I?????????think Pete has done a very good job of handling the situation, much better than I?????????did at the time. At the time, when I?????????look back here, my frustration with being in a similar situation -- third ownership group, third GM?????????in three years -- I?????????carried that into the dressing room with me. I think that's the key. You can't do that. He's done it looks like an excellent job of making sure he's not doing that."

After a loss at Tampa Bay, Florida recalled defenseman Colby Robak from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.

Florida had been carrying six defensemen and the move could allow it to have captain Ed Jovanovski sit out the second half of the back-to-back set. The 37-year-old defenseman, who returned Jan. 4 after undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure in the offseason, was a healthy scratch the prior time the Panthers played for a second consecutive day, March 2 against the New York Islanders.

Here are the projected lineups for the Devils and Panthers:


Jaromir Jagr - Travis Zajac - Tuomo Ruutu

Ryane Clowe - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder

Dainius Zubrus - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner

Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Mark Fayne - Andy Greene

Jon Merrill - Anton Volchenkov

Marek Zidlicky - Bryce Salvador

Cory Schneider

Martin Brodeur

Scratched: Eric Gelinas, Peter Harrold, Jacob Josefson


Scottie Upshall - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Tomas Fleischmann

Quinton Howden - Brandon Pirri - Jimmy Hayes

Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Joey Crabb

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert

Colby Robak - Dmitry Kulikov

Dylan Olsen - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Scratched: Ed Jovanovski

Injured: Erik Gudbranson (lower body), Jesse Winchester (lower body), Aleksander Barkov (lower body), Tomas Kopecky (upper body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body)

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