Devils-Panthers Preview

For most teams a three-game winning streak is common, but it

would be the longest in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils

while the Florida Panthers would match a season high.

Only one team will achieve that Saturday night when the

NHL-worst Devils visit the last-place Panthers for the first of

three meetings in just under three weeks.

While New Jersey (12-29-2) and Florida (20-20-2) have struggled

for much of the 2010-11, both clubs have shown signs of putting

together strong stretches.

The Devils are coming off two impressive performances over

Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay, winning 5-2 on Friday after

setting a season-high for goals in a 6-3 victory Sunday.

New Jersey’s scoring output against the Lightning came after it

was outscored 42-16 during a 1-10-0 stretch. Friday’s win also

snapped an 11-game road losing streak since beating defending

Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Nov. 3.

“You could tell because every time we’d take the bus everybody’s

sad or mad or not happy,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the

Devils’ struggles on the road, where they’re 5-16-0. “At least for

the time being we’ll be able to talk to each other on the bus on

the way to the airport.”

The Devils haven’t won three in a row since a five-game run from

Dec. 12-21, 2009.

Concluding this three-game trip against the New York Islanders

on Monday might give New Jersey a chance to get closer to matching

that streak, but first they’ll have to contend with the

Panthers.

The Devils and Panthers split four meetings last season,

including two at the BankAtlantic Center.

Florida has won the first two games of its six-game homestand,

following up Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over Washington with a 3-2

victory against Nashville on Wednesday.

The Panthers, 3-1-1 in the last five home meetings with New

Jersey, are in position to match their longest winning streak from

Dec. 4-9. They’ve gained confidence after Rostislav Olesz and David

Booth scored 2:14 apart late in the third period to rally over the

Predators.

“It was a character win,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “…We’re not

a team that can make five passes all the way up the ice and is not

going to ‘wow’ anyone with our skills, so we have to score those

dirty goals and get to the net.”

Booth has three goals and two assists in his last four games.

He’s also been very effective at home, scoring 11 of his team-high

13 goals there after getting one in each of the last three games in

south Florida.

Booth has no points in his last two meetings with the Devils

after getting three goals and three assists in the previous

five.

New Jersey is finally getting production from star Ilya

Kovalchuk, who scored two goals Friday after setting up two Sunday.

His 12 goals lead the team, but also has the worst plus/minus

rating in the league at minus-27.

Kovalchuk has 31 goals and 28 assists in 49 games against the

Panthers.

These teams meet on Jan. 23 and Feb. 4 in New Jersey.