Back in first, Cats start Northeast road trip against Devils


The hot-at-home Panthers will face off against the New Jersey Devils on the road today at 1 p.m. for the fourth and final time this season. They are 1-1-1 this year against the Devils who are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.

In the opening couple months of the season, the Panthers were very strong away from the Bank Atlantic Center and their first nine road wins tied for league-best at the time. The storyline has changed a bit since then, and lately it seems they have been banking on their success at home. The Panthers are 14-5-7 on home ice this year and 11-12-4 when playing in enemy territory. With only 29 regular season games left and valuable points at stake in each, there is little room for error. This makes it all the more important to revert back to their “road warrior” ways from early on.

The Panthers’ lone win against the Devils came in mid-November, and is still revered as one of their most exciting games played this year. The “Comeback Cats” found themselves down 3-0 after the opening period, but rallied back with four unanswered goals.

The last time Florida met New Jersey was at the Prudential Center  just a little over a month ago. With 2:52 remaining in the game while the Panthers trailed 3-2, Zach Parise was sent to the box on a delay of game call. Jacob Markstrom was pulled to get the extra attacker, but Ilya Kovalchuk sent the puck sailing 93 feet into the empty net on the Cats’ 6-on-4 advantage. Mere seconds after Parise came out of the box, he further solidified the victory with an empty netter of his own.

While the Panthers’ ticket to the postseason might come in the form of winning one of the weaker divisions in the league, the Devils aren’t exactly in the same boat. They sit three points behind the Flyers and seven points behind the red hot Rangers in the consistently competitive Atlantic Division. A recent six game winning streak before falling to the Blues in a shootout on Thursday catapulted the Devils to fifth place in the East with 66 points. At this stage, they have a five point cushion between them and ninth place.

In ninth place sit the Washington Capitals, the Panthers’ biggest foe right now as they trade the first place spot in the Southeast Division back and forth. Both teams have 61 points, but the Cats have played in one fewer game giving them the slight edge. They will be playing in this afternoon’s match-up coming off a solid 3-1 home win against Jonathan Quick (who actually got yanked in the game) and the LA Kings. However, just two nights prior, they were demoralized on the road getting shut out by the Caps, due in part to Scott Clemmensen allowing four goals on only 14 shots.

Clemmensen fared much better two nights ago, stopping all but one of the 23 shots he faced against LA. The Devils are led in goals by Kovalchuk with 22 and in points by Patrik Elias with 53 (tied for 12th in the league). The two of them, Parise and right wing David Clarkson have combined for 83 goals so far this season, so a big key today will be Clemmensen staying solid between the pipes against his former team.

Following the Devils’ shootout win against the Rangers earlier in the week, Martin Brodeur missed the game against the Blues due to a sore ankle. Johan Hedberg started in that game and Jeff Frazee was called up in the interim. It has already been determined that barring any late setback, Brodeur will get the nod today against Florida, but the Devils kept Frazee around to make sure Brodeur got through practice without problems.

The Panthers had little trouble beating Brodeur in that first game in November, but struggled against him the second time around ultimately losing in a shootout (Hedberg started in the third meeting last month). Since the All Star break, Sean Bergenheim has led the Panthers in scoring with three goals and two assists. Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann who comprise the FlashMob line have all scored only one goal a piece, though Fleischmann has also tacked on three assists.

The Cats are 18-1-6 when scoring first, so they need to fire a lot of shots right out of the gate. The first period against the Kings on Thursday was, for lack of a better word, a snooze. They only tested Quick with five shots, none of which were successful, and beating Brodeur is no simpler.

For the Devils’ perspective, check out what our friends at Pucks and Pitchforks have to say by clicking here.

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