(AP) – The New Jersey Devils are tied for last in the Eastern Conference, but their recent play has them among the hottest teams in the NHL. Another visit from the sputtering Florida Panthers isn’t likely to change that.
The Devils look to continue their home dominance over the Panthers on Friday night.
New Jersey (18-30-3) is tied with the New York Islanders at the bottom of the conference with 39 points, putting its hopes of a 14th consecutive trip to the playoffs in major jeopardy.
However, the Devils are 8-1-1 over the last 10 as they mount a charge to keep the postseason string intact. New Jersey is 18 points behind eighth-place Atlanta with 31 games left.
“We have to start catching up to teams and bringing them behind us,” Martin Brodeur said. “It’s going to be a long process. Hopefully, we’ll keep what’s going on now going. It’s nice, for now, to not see your name in the 15th spot.”
The Devils continued their outstanding play, beating the New York Rangers 3-2 on Thursday to pull out of last place in the league. They’ve already beaten the Panthers (22-23-6) during this surge, 5-2 on Jan. 23 at the Prudential Center.
New Jersey has won 10 of the last 12 at home against Florida, holding a 39-19 scoring advantage.
Brodeur is 15-4-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last 19 home games versus the Panthers.
He made 24 saves against them last month, and is 7-1-1 with a 1.99 GAA and one shutout in his last nine overall after stopping 25 shots Thursday. Brodeur had been 0-6-0 with a 4.21 GAA in eight games from Dec. 17-Jan. 8, leading coach Jacques Lemaire to claim the four-time Vezina Trophy winner was no longer the unquestioned starter.
Brian Rolston has five goals and eight assists and is plus-10 over the last 10 games. The left wing had two goals and three assists in his first 24 games this season while missing 14 due to hernia surgery.
Rolston had a goal and assist against Florida less than two weeks ago.
That began a season-high six-game road trip for the Panthers. They hope to conclude it on a more positive note in Newark.
Florida dropped to 1-3-1 on the swing following a 3-2 loss to Montreal on Wednesday despite 38 saves from Tomas Vokoun.
“I think we played hard, and that’s all you can ask,” said Vokoun, who has lost three straight in New Jersey. Backup Scott Clemmensen is 3-0-0 with a 2.36 GAA in four career starts against the Devils, who selected him in the eighth round of the 1997 draft.
Stephen Weiss, who scored the final goal against Montreal, has two goals and one assist over the last two games after going a season-high five straight without a point. Weiss leads the Panthers with 36 points and is tied with David Booth for team lead with 15 goals.
However, Weiss has only two assists in his last six visits to New Jersey.
Updated February 4, 2011
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