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Devils visit Panthers aiming for third straight win

by Brian Hunter /
DEVILS (12-29-2) at PANTHERS (20-20-2)


Last 10:
New Jersey 3-7-0; Florida 5-3-2

Season series: First of four meetings this season. The teams split their matchups on the 2009-10 schedule, with ex-Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen picking up both wins against his former team. Michael Frolik led all scorers with 3 goals for the Panthers.

Big story: New Jersey enters having put together its best two-game stretch of the season with a home-and-home sweep of Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay. The Devils scored 11 goals, including a five-goal third period Sunday and a four-goal first on Friday. Their win at the St. Pete Times Forum snapped an 11-game road losing streak. They will aim for their first three-game winning streak of the season Saturday.

Team Scope:

Devils: About the only thing New Jersey didn't do in the back-to-back wins over Tampa Bay was get the first goal. The Lightning opened the scoring again Friday, courtesy of a Steven Stamkos power-play goal, but then Ilya Kovalchuk, Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac tallied in a span of just under six minutes. Zajac's goal came shorthanded and chased Dwayne Roloson from the net. Martin Brodeur was sound again, making 30 saves, and Kovalchuk added a second goal in a 5-2 win for the Devils.

"We still have a long way to go," Kovalchuk told the Newark Star-Ledger. "Two in a row is good but there are a lot of games in front of us."

Panthers: Reversing the recent script it had been following, Florida was the team coming from behind in the third period Thursday instead of the one giving up the lead. The Panthers entered the final 20 minutes in a tie game against the visiting Predators and fell behind on a David Legwand goal midway through the period, but Rostislav Olesz drew them even with 6:26 left and David Booth scored the go-ahead goal with 4:12 remaining for a 3-2 victory.

"It's a big character win for us, especially after having given the lead there in the third that we've been doing a little bit lately," said Clemmensen, who stopped 27 shots. "It was a bad goal on my part, but the way the guys responded to get the equalizing goal and then go-ahead goal was great. This is the type of game that hopefully you can build on."

Who's hot:
Kovalchuk (2-2-4), Elias (2-2-4) and Rolston (1-3-4) all had big efforts for the Devils in their sweep of the Lightning. Brodeur has stopped 82 of 87 shots over his last three games, a .943 save percentage. … Booth (3-2-5) and Mike Santorelli (2-2-4) have four-game points streaks going for the Panthers. Marty Reasoner has 3 goals and 1 assists in his last four games.

Injury report: New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov hasn't rejoined the team yet after the death of his father. Forward Zach Parise (knee) and defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion) and Matt Taormina (ankle) are on injured reserve. … Florida forward Chris Higgins (lower body) is day-to-day, while forwards Byron Bitz (sports hernia) and Mark Cullen (Achilles) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Kovalchuk had 31 goals in 48 games against the Panthers while playing for the Thrashers. … Clemmensen's 25 wins for the Devils in 2008-09 are the most in a single season for the franchise by a goalie other than Brodeur.

Puck drop:
In his third stint as New Jersey's coach, Jacques Lemaire won his 250th game with the club Friday. He's been encouraged with how the Devils have played lately, even before the back-to-back victories.

"I think the guys started to believe that if they work together, they'll have a better chance to score than working on their own," Lemaire said.

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