Martin Brodeur has the New Jersey Devils back in the win column.
The NHL-worst Florida Panthers have a chance to be there in three straight games for the first time all season.
Brodeur could be in net for a second straight contest Saturday night in New Jersey, where the Devils and Panthers meet for the first time since last season’s first-round playoff matchup.
Out since Feb. 21 with a pinched nerve in his upper back and neck, Brodeur made 17 saves and scored his third career goal off an errant pass from Carolina’s Jordan Staal in Thursday’s 4-1 victory. The Devils (14-11-6) had dropped three in a row overall and six straight on the road.
“You know him coming back, he’s going to give you a boost,” center Travis Zajac said. “But he was just awesome today.”
The Panthers don’t need to be reminded. Brodeur is 15-5-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last 20 regular-season home starts against them.
The NHL’s all-time winningest goaltender started each game during the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs versus Florida, stopping 57 of 61 shots in Game 6 and 7 victories – both went past regulation – to give New Jersey its first playoff series win since 2007.
In the Panthers’ previous playoff appearance in 2000, Brodeur stopped 98 of 104 shots in the Devils’ first-round sweep.
Florida (9-16-6) still has some playoff life this season, but with a league-low 24 points, it will need a strong push over the final five weeks if it’s going to make the postseason a year after winning its first Southeast Division title.
The Panthers are heading in the right direction, defeating the Hurricanes and the New York Rangers to open their season-high five-game trip.
“That’s seven or eight solid periods in a row for us,” coach Kevin Dineen said after Thursday’s 3-1 victory over the Rangers. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Panthers have won consecutive road games for the first time since a four-game stretch that started with a 3-1 victory over the Devils on Feb. 11, 2012 – their last regular-season game at New Jersey.
Florida last won three straight overall during a five-game run March 11-20, 2012.
Jacob Markstrom has lost both times he’s faced the Devils, but there’s a good chance he’ll make a third consecutive start for the Panthers. Markstrom has stopped 77 of 79 shots on the trip after coming within 3:48 of his first NHL shutout Thursday.
“I felt really good from the start to the finish,” Markstrom said after making a career-high 44 saves.
If that continues, the Panthers’ league-worst penalty kill (74.2 percent) has a good chance of improving. It already has, failing just once in seven short-handed chances in the last two games.
New Jersey is 4 for 10 with the man advantage in its last three.
Forward Matt D’Agostini could make his Devils debut after being acquired from St. Louis on Friday for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015. He has two points in 16 games after beginning the season in Germany.
These clubs split four regular-season matchups in 2011-12, with each winning once on the road.