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Panthers' Montoya returns in finale against Devils

by Steve Gorten / NHL.com

DEVILS (32-35-14) at PANTHERS (37-29-15)

TV: MSG+ 2, FS-F

SUNRISE, FL – After missing the past month with a groin injury, backup goalie Al Montoya will start the Florida Panthers' season finale Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

Roberto Luongo made 34 saves in a 4-2 win Thursday, finishing the season 28-19-12 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Montoya is 5-7-2 with a 3.08 GAA and .888 save percentage in 19 games played.

"He battled back from that injury, so it's good he gets a chance to start," Panthers coach Gerald Gallant said.

Added Luongo: "He's worked hard the last few weeks. It's a nice little bonus for him to get to play."

Luongo finishes this season with his best statistics since leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010-11, but said he wished he'd been even better, noting that missing the playoffs "will sting for a little bit." One positive, he said, is young players such as forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Pirri, and rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad made significant strides and had a big impact in the Panthers' 23-point improvement from last season – guaranteed to be the largest in the NHL.

"It's all about culture in the locker room, expectations and making sure you want to demand the most out of yourself every night and not accept losses," Luongo said. "We did that for the most part. We grew as a team."

Said defenseman Willie Mitchell, who'll miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years, "I don't think anyone wanted to play us [in the postseason], I truly believe that."

With a win or non-regulation loss Saturday, the Panthers (37-29-15) will hit 90 points in a season for the fifth time in franchise history. The Devils (32-35-14) will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

"There's no question there's an emptiness, but you try to get it out of your mind," said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello. He added, "We went through injuries, ups and downs in development, but no excuses whatsoever. We're not there. I take responsibility for that."

The Devils will face Jaromir Jagr for the first time since trading him to the Panthers in February. Jagr scored in New Jersey's 3-1 home win against the Panthers on Jan. 31.

"He's a tremendous athlete, one of the best to ever play the game," Lamoriello said.

Told that the 43-year-old Jagr said he wants to play until he's 50, Lamoriello quipped, "I'm surprised it was only 50, and not 60."

Here are the projected lineups:

DEVILS

Dainius ZubrusPatrik EliasStephen Gionta

Mike CammalleriTravis ZajacJordin Tootoo

Adam HenriqueScott GomezSteve Bernier

Tuomo RuutuJacob JosefsonReid Boucher

Peter HarroldEric Gelinas

Andy GreeneAdam Larsson

Damon SeversonMark Fraser

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

Scratched: Stefan Matteau

Injured: Jon Merrill (leg)

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri -- Vincent Trocheck -- Jimmy Hayes

Jussi Jokinen -- Dave Bolland -- Brad Boyes

Scottie Upshall -- Derek MacKenzie -- Shawn Thornton

Willie MitchellSteven Kampfer

Brian CampbellAaron Ekblad

Dmitry Kulikov -- Alex Petrovic

Al Montoya

Roberto Luongo

Scratched: Tomas Kopecky

Injured: Erik Gudbranson (upper-body)

Status report: Panthers backup goalie Al Montoya (groin) will start and see his first action since March 3. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who sustained an upper-body injury Thursday, will be held out. Steven Kampfer will replace Gudbranson. For the Devils, defenseman Jon Merrill didn't skate Saturday and won't play. Lamoriello said Merrill is still sore from being struck by a shot.

Who's hot: Huberdeau, who scored Thursday against the Bruins, has three goals and seven assists in the past nine games. Linemate Jagr has 11 points (four goals) in his past 11 games after a pair of assists Thursday. … Devils forward Steve Bernier has three goals in the past two games. Larsson has 20 points (two goals) in 41 games since Jan. 3 after 13 points in his previous 85 games.

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