Florida and New Jersey face off for the third time this season. The last time the two met in Sunrise, the Panthers fought back from a 2-0 whole with two-third period goals in a 3-2 overtime loss. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – A three-headed snake.
That’s how Panther coach Peter DeBoer described his team’s three opponents this week after Tuesday’s morning skate here at BankAtlantic Center. And it all begins tonight when the Panthers play host to the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils.
“You’ve got New Jersey, Chicago (Thursday) and Boston (Saturday),” DeBoer said. “That’s three of the top five teams in the league. And the guys are excited about it.
“It will be a great test for us. It will be a good measuring stick to see where we’re at. On the standings side, it’s important we find a way to pick up points and stay with the pack.”
The Panthers, who have won three of their last four and are 7-3 in their last 10 games, could jump into sixth place in the Eastern Conference this evening with a victory over the Devils, No. 2 in the East with a 37-17-3 record.
The Panthers, 12-4-3 since Jan. 1, are coming off a 4-2 loss Sunday at home against the Capitals. The Panthers have not lost consecutive homes games this season, and have not lost consecutive games since Dec. 29-31.
Tonight’s game marks the first of seven games in 13 days against teams with winning records, including two against the Devils and Bruins and one each against the Rangers, Capitals and Blackhawks.
“It can get overwhelming if you start looking at the teams and the numbers of days and the records of the teams we’re playing,” DeBoer admitted. “We’re responded playing better teams with better games, most desperate games on our end. I feel that again this morning with these guys, that they have to be ready to play or we can get beat badly by some of the teams we’ll face. That’s a good thing. If we can take it one day at a time, I’m comfortable with the way we’re playing and good things will happen.”
The Panthers will meet a Devils team that has exceeded the expectations of some, especially after goalie Martin Brodeur went down Nov. 1 to injury. The Devils have won four games in a row, 13 of 15, and have won seven consecutive road games.
The durable Zach Parise is fifth in the league in points (69) and tied for second in goals (a career-high 34). He’s also a plus-23, and was named the NHL’s first star the week ending Feb. 15 after scoring four goals and adding four assists. Right behind Parise is Patrik Elias, sixth in the league in scoring with 69 points.
DeBoer, who spoke Tuesday morning along the boards with Devils coach and friend Brent Sutter, said tonight’s opponent is “playing a real good game.”
“They’ve got four real good lines, they’ve got size, they’ve got depth, they grind it out. They play the game the right way. I think they’re built for the playoffs.”
While DeBoer called the team’s effort Sunday against the Capitals a seven on a scale of 10 – “We would have liked a little bit more” – he was pleased “we showed up with some energy deficiencies.”
“Early in the year, we (would have lost) that game four or 5-1,” he said. “We didn’t have great legs. We played structurally sound and we found a way to hang around and almost pick up a point.”
Brendan Shanahan, who missed Sunday’s game against San Jose due to a bruised foot, is game-to-game as is defenseman Paul Martin (upper body injury)...Brodeur is traveling with the Devils. It’s his first road trip since Nov. 1 when suffering a torn bicep tendon in his left arm…Going into tonight’s game, Michael Frolik has a three-game goal streak, Cory Stillman has a five-game point streak…Nathan Horton has points in three of his last four games…