(CBSSports) – The last time the New Jersey Devils visited the Florida Panthers, they eliminated them from the opening round of the playoffs in dramatic fashion.
The dramatics went against the Devils their last time out.
New Jersey attempts to avoid another three-game slide Saturday night and beat the league-worst Panthers for the second time in a week.
Adam Henrique scored early in the second overtime as the Devils defeated the Panthers 3-2 in Game 7 of their first-round series on April 26. New Jersey won its second straight in overtime and overcame a 3-2 series deficit despite blowing a two-goal lead in the third period.
The Devils (15-11-8), who went on to reach the Stanley Cup finals, beat Florida 2-1 last Saturday in the first meeting since the playoffs, but suffered a major blow when star forward Ilya Kovalchuk was lost for 2-4 weeks after injuring his right shoulder.
They’ve lost two games since, falling 5-4 in a shootout Friday at Tampa Bay after blowing a two-goal lead in the third with the tying tally coming with 15.1 seconds left.
“It’s disappointing when you’re 15 seconds away from getting two (points), but at the same time we’ve got to put points in the bank and keep moving forward,” coach Peter DeBoer said.
New Jersey, which dropped three straight last week, is seventh in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the New York Rangers and Islanders, who are tied for the eighth and final postseason spot.
Andrei Loktionov is looking to continue his superb play with Kovalchuk out. The center has seven goals and three assists in 17 games since being recalled from Albany of the AHL, matching his goal production during 59 games with Los Angeles over the last three seasons.
Loktionov has four goals in the past six games but was kept off the scoresheet versus Florida.
Patrik Elias’ goal against the Panthers last week is his only one in seven games after getting four over the previous five contests. The left wing has three goals and two assists over the past four regular-season meetings with Florida.
The Panthers are tied with Colorado for the fewest points in the NHL, but they own the worst record with a .371 winning percentage. They seemed headed for another defeat Thursday after squandering a two-goal, second-period lead, but rallied to beat Buffalo 5-4 in a shootout and snap a four-game home losing streak.
“I felt like there was a feeling on the bench that, you know what, we owed our fans here at home, we owed ourselves,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We didn’t want to make it that entertaining but we’ll take it.”
Florida, 5-8-5 at home, could use another big effort from Shawn Matthias, who had two goals against the Sabres. The center has a career-high 12 goals with nine coming in 15 games this month.
“A couple of lucky bounces. I’ll take it,” said Matthias, who has two goals in 12 meetings with New Jersey.
Jonathan Huberdeau continues to be one of the Panthers’ few bright spots at home. He leads the team and all rookies with 13 goals, and 10 have come at BB&T Center, including the one that forced overtime Thursday. He also scored in the shootout.
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