Panthers start Northeastern swing vs. Devils

First-year Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said his team needs to keep pushing if it wants to end a long playoff drought. Posting better results on the road would certainly help.

The Panthers look to improve their play away from home as they face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

Florida begins a two-game swing through the New York metropolitan area following Thursday’s 3-1 win over Los Angeles. That pushed the Panthers (25-17-11) into a tie for the Southeast Division lead with Washington, which lost to Winnipeg in a shootout.

“I felt it was an important game. It was a really key game for us tonight, but more than that we need to stay relevant,” Dineen said. “We want to stay part of the picture.”

Florida hasn’t been to the playoffs since being swept in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by New Jersey in 2000.

The Panthers would likely have sole possession of the Southeast lead if they had better results away from home, as they’re the only division leader with a losing road record (11-12-4). Florida is 1-6-4 and has been outscored 48-19 in its past 11 on the road.

Florida is 1-1-1 against the Devils this season, including a 5-2 loss Jan. 6 in Newark. The Panthers will be looking to avoid their 12th defeat in 15 visits to New Jersey.

Kris Versteeg has accounted for four of Florida’s eight goals against the Devils in 2011-12. The left wing leads the club with 20 goals and 25 assists, and he’s one point shy of matching his total from last season with Toronto and Philadelphia.

Versteeg has a goal and two assists in five career games in New Jersey and has been held off the scoresheet in his last two trips to the Prudential Center.

Before playing the New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon, the Panthers will meet a Devils club coming off its first loss in six games following the All-Star break, 4-3 in a shootout to St. Louis on Thursday.

“We played a solid game, did a lot of good things,” said current Devils and former Florida coach Peter DeBoer. “I thought we had a number of good chances to put the game away but we just didn’t capitalize.”

New Jersey (31-19-4), which is seven points behind the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division, has scored 24 goals since the break. Zach Parise and David Clarkson have led the way with six each.

Ilya Kovalchuk has been the Devils’ top scorer over that span with 12 points, including nine assists. After joining the Devils in a trade with Atlanta two years ago, Kovalchuk has four goals and five assists in eight games against the Panthers in helping New Jersey post a 4-2-2 record.

It’s not immediately known if Martin Brodeur will start in goal for New Jersey on Saturday. The NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts did not face the Blues after injuring his right ankle in a 1-0 win over the Rangers on Tuesday.

Brodeur is 37-15-7 with a tie, a 2.03 goals-against average and six shutouts against the Panthers. Johan Hedberg, who dropped to 13-7-2 on Thursday, has won three of his last four starts against the Panthers with a 2.49 GAA.