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Panthers search for season-long win streak

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Florida Panthers have an opportunity to win three consecutive games for the first time this season when they visit the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at Prudential Center.

The only other time the Panthers entered a contest having won the two previous matches was Feb. 5 when they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Winnipeg Jets. Florida has defeated the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers in the opening two games of this five-game road swing.

"We're looking at the first period and everything is short-term snapshots," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's been nice to have a couple days off where we can sit on a victory; it makes a tremendous difference. Rest comes easier when your mind is at ease."

One noticeable absentee from the Panthers afternoon skate at Prudential Center was defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who is dealing with the flu. Dineen said Gudbranson, who has four assists and a minus-17 rating in 22 games this season, is questionable to face the Devils. If the 6-foot-5, 210-pound defender is unavailable, Dmitry Kulikov would replace him in the lineup.

Kulikov has missed the past 10 games while recovering from a dislocated shoulder he sustained against the Hurricanes on March 2. The 22-year-old Russian had seven assists, 49 hits and 30 blocked shots in 20 games prior to the injury, while averaging 21:44 of ice time.

One season removed from taking the Devils to the brink in a dramatic seven-game series loss in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Panthers are last in the NHL with nine wins and 24 points, two behind the Colorado Avalanche (11 wins, 26 points). Despite that fact, Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau is one of the top candidates for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year at this stage in the season.

"It's been an enjoyable first year," Huberdeau told "The coaching staff has just stressed to be responsible in my own end and the offensive side will come. Offensively, I can get creative when I want in the zone, but I just need to be responsible in my own end."

Dineen said he'll determine his starting goalie after pregame warm-ups.

Scott Clemmensen, who spent the majority of his career (2001-07, 2008-09) with the Devils, is 2-5-2 this season with a 4.14 goals-against average and .857 save percentage. In five career regular-season appearance against New Jersey, Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .937 save percentage.

"It's always fun coming to New Jersey and playing against Devils," Clemmensen told "Even though the team has changed over the years, there are a lot of guys I know over there and respect."

Jacob Markstrom (3-5-1, 2.72 GAA, .916 save percentage) has been stellar in two straight starts for the Panthers, stopping 77 of 79 shots in victories over the Hurricanes and Rangers. The 23-year-old is 0-2-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .878 save percentage in two career appearances against New Jersey.

If Gudbranson is out with the flu, here is how Florida might line up against New Jersey on Saturday:

Tomas Fleischmann - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky

Drew Shore - Jonathan Huberdeau - Peter Mueller

Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Quinton Howden - Mike Santorelli - Jerred Smithson

Filip Kuba - Brian Campbell

Dmitry Kulikov - TJ Brennan

Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Erik Gudbranson, Eric Selleck, George Parros


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