Devils try to gain more ground as Panthers visit
PANTHERS (22-23-6) at DEVILS (18-30-3)
TV: FS-F (HD), MSG PLUS (HD)
Last 10: Florida 3-3-4; New Jersey 8-1-1
Season series: Third of four meetings this season, with the home team winning the first two. Florida prevailed 3-2 on Jan. 15 on Dmitry Kulikov's goal 3:36 into overtime. New Jersey took a 5-2 victory on Jan. 23 as Jason Arnott scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk added a goal and 2 assists.
Big story: There's still a long way to go before the Devils could be described as being in playoff contention and only 31 games left in which to make up the 18 points by which they currently trail the eighth-place Thrashers, but New Jersey is finally out of last in the overall NHL standings, passing Edmonton and tying the New York Islanders in points after winning on Thursday.
Panthers: This is Florida's third game in four nights coming out of the All-Star break, and the finale of a six-game road trip. The Panthers have already squandered opportunities to gain ground on the top eight by gaining only one out of a possible four points against Toronto and Montreal earlier in the week. Scott Timmins opened the scoring Wednesday with his first NHL goal, but the Canadiens answered with the next three and a late Stephen Weiss tally couldn't save the Panthers from a 3-2 defeat.
"It's tough to win on one goal," said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 38 shots. "We did score at the end there, but it's been our problem all year. You can't expect to win 1-0 on the road, it's just impossible. I think we played hard, and that's all you can ask. They were just a better team."
Devils: In its recent resurgence, New Jersey already owned victories over Atlantic Division rivals Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Islanders. The Devils added the Rangers to that list on Thursday, building a 3-0 lead and holding on for a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden. They had lost the first three matchups to the Blueshirts in this season's series and the home team had the better of the play in the third period, but Martin Brodeur made 14 of his 25 saves there to secure the two points.
"That was not easy," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We had the good start. I think we played well. The thing is, the time we started to get penalties, which didn't help. But I felt the guys didn't drop as a team. Guys still had poise and did what they had to do and got a break at the end."
Who's hot: Weiss has goals in consecutive games for the Panthers. Kulikov has 2 goals and 6 assists over his last seven games. … Dainius Zubrus has goals in consecutive games for the Devils and picked up his 300th career assist against the Rangers. Brian Rolston (4-5-9) and Patrik Elias (3-5-8) are on seven-game points streaks.
Injury report: Florida will be without forward Shawn Matthias (ankle) and defenseman Bryan McCabe (jaw) for the long term. … New Jersey is missing defensemen Matthew Corrente (shoulder), Matt Taormina (ankle) and Bryce Salvador (concussion) and forward Zach Parise (knee).
Stat pack: Vokoun is 5-6-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and two shutouts career against the Devils. … Elias has 20 goals and 40 points in 45 career games against the Panthers.
Puck drop: Timmins was a sixth-round pick of Florida in the 2009 Entry Draft, held in Montreal. He made his return to the Bell Centre on Wednesday a memorable one, a night after playing his first NHL game against Toronto.
"I wasn't really expecting the call," Timmins said. "I've just been taking advantage and run with it. It's just amazing to be in the NHL."