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game recap

Huberdeau, Panthers defeat Devils

Forward scores 17th, 18th goals; Florida moves into first place in division

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' top line came up big Thursday to help the team move closer to a playoff berth. 

Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice, Aleksander Barkov had a goal and Jaromir Jagr had two assists when the Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 at BB&T Center.

"They were outstanding," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "(Huberdeau) had a couple of great goals. They really played well. They're our leaders and they took control tonight." 

The Panthers (43-25-9) tied the franchise record for victories in a season and regained first place in the Atlantic Division with 95 points, two more than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost 3-0 at home Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens. 

Video: NJD@FLA: Panthers take advantage of collision

The Panthers and Lightning each have five games remaining; the Lightning hold the tiebreaker advantage because of regulation and overtime wins. 

The win reduced Florida's magic number for clinching a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs to three points.

"We needed that, especially at home in front of our fans," Huberdeau said. "It's a big game. We're right back at the top, even though we've got to stay there and play better consistently.

Jagr's first assist helped him reach the 60-point mark for the 18th time in his career. 

Video: NJD@FLA: Huberdeau scores his second of the night

Huberdeau, who tied his career-high with 54 points, has scored in four consecutive games. 

"He's one of our young stars," Gallant said. "That's what we want from him. He played with passion tonight and he's played really well. It's every year (Huberdeau) plays really well down the stretch and there's nothing different this year. He's really playing good for us."

Huberdeau broke a 1-1 tie at 3:13 of the third period from a sharp angle when his shot bounced in off the back of Devils goalie Kevin Kinkaid.

Video: NJD@FLA: Fans toss toy rats on ice causing a penalty

The Panthers handed out plastic rats as a promotion and several were thrown onto the ice after both of Huberdeau's goals. Fans were warned after the first goal that a recurrence would result in a delay of game penalty for the Panthers, which is exactly what happened after Huberdeau's second goal. The power play became a 5-on-3 for 26 seconds after defenseman Steve Kampfer was penalized for tripping.

Florida was called for another delay of game penalty after Barkov's goal made it 3-1 with 2:08 remaining. Barkov scored on a 2-on-1 when he tapped in Jagr's pass across the front of the net.

New Jersey finished 1-for-6 on the power play, but didn't take advantage of either delay of game penalty.

Video: NJD@FLA: Jagr forces turnover, feeds Barkov for goal

"They called it like they're supposed to call it," Gallant said. "There's nothing they can do. When we throw stuff on the ice, it's been a rule for a long time, we've got to know better than that. I sure hope it doesn't happen again because we're battling for a playoff spot and we're trying to kill penalties and working hard and when we're throwing stuff on the ice and we know we're going to get a penalty, we've got to be smarter than that."

Panthers goalie Al Montoya made 23 saves.

Mike Sislo and Blake Pietila scored for the Devils (37-33-8), who are seven points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with four games remaining. The Flyers have six games left.

Kinkaid made 36 saves in a second consecutive strong start. Kinkaid made a career-high 39 saves in New Jersey's 2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

Video: NJD@FLA: Kinkaid's save keeps game tied at 1

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Derek MacKenzie returned to the lineup for the Panthers, who played without center Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck, who is tied with Jagr for the team lead with 25 goals, is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.

Florida dominated the first two periods, outshooting New Jersey 29-10, but Kinkaid kept the game tied at 1-1 with several spectacular saves. His best stop came in the first period when he made a leg save on Barkov's shorthanded breakaway.

"When we play like that, I felt real good," Gallant said. "I felt we were going to win the hockey game. I thought we were in control all night. Kinkaid was outstanding in their net. (Montoya) made some key saves at key times for us, too, but I thought Kinkaid really kept them in the game."

Sislo opened the scoring at 8:30 of the first with a power-play goal. After Devante Smith-Pelly's shot was blocked in front of the net, the puck slid to the left to Sislo. His wrist shot went in just under the crossbar and inside the right post.

Video: NJD@FLA: Sislo opens the scoring on the power play

Huberdeau made it 1-1 at 7:57 of the second period when he came in alone on Sislo after a beautiful pass across the blue line from Shawn Thornton. Kinkaid made a leg save on Huberdeau's deke to his forehand, but Huberdeau banged home the rebound.

"I thought they were good," Devils coach John Hynes said of the Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr line. "They have a lot of puck possession. Obviously Huberdeau had a couple of goals and Jagr made that nice play (on Barkov's goal). They're a tough line to contain. I thought we did a fairly good job of it, but they found a way to put the puck in the back of the net."

Florida hosts Montreal and New Jersey plays at Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Video: Huberdeau leads Panthers to first place in Atlantic

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