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Game 48 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

The Time: 3:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD); Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-29-3) at the Florida Panthers (21-20-5)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Philadelphia to take on the top team in the East, who have won their last 4 games.  They showed no fear at all, outplaying them in the first period to build a 2 goal lead, and keeping the Flyers honest in the following two periods.  Johan Hedberg was the surprise starter, but the Moose was brilliant.  The Devils beat the Flyers, 3-1.  Here's Kevin's recap of the Saturday afternoon game.

The Last Panthers Game: The Panthers hosted their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Friday. It was a tight affair that required a shootout.  The Lightning prevailed and so it's a 2-1 shootout loss in the books for Florida, their third straight post-regulation loss.  Donny Rivette has this short recap at Litter Box Cats.

The Last Devils-Panthers Game: The Devils visited the Panthers just after pasting the Lightning 5-2.  Florida put up more of a fight, though, and put up 2-1 lead on New Jersey. The Devils equalized in the third whilst holding the Panthers to no shots on net for most of the period. Alas, when the Panthers were able to put a shot on frame, Dmitry Kulikov made it count in overtime.  So the Devils lost 3-2, but at least got a point out of the deal. Here's my recap of the game; here's a quick take from Donny at LBC and the scoring chances from the game counted by Derek Zona.

The Goal:  The Devils are coming off a 3-1 win in Philadelphia where Nick Palmieri (upper body injury) and Vladimir Zharkov (illness), saw Colin White leave the game with an undisclosed injury; Tim Sestito's eye got struck (Sestito is fine, per Gulitti); Dainius Zubrus got a two-hander from Honorless Captain Mike Richards (thankfully Big Z was OK and played out the game);  and three Devils logged over 25 minutes of ice time: Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, and Ilya Kovalchuk.  The game itself had a good tempo, it featured plenty of physical play, and plenty of intensity, especially late in the game.  Then there's the win itself, which is big for the team's confidence since it was over a rival and a very, very, very good hockey team.  Basically, it's easy to see the Devils look drained this afternoon. That's an advantage that a fresher Florida team can and will take. 

For the Devils to get a result this afternoon, it's best if they spread out the minutes more evenly so a handful of players aren't carrying a large work load.   At the same time, when the other players get that chance, the players need to play well enough for Jacques Lemaire to keep things even.  If both happens, that should lessen the effect of fatigue on New Jersey, an obstacle that can prevent them from getting a win.

I have a few more thoughts on this game after the jump.  Please check out Litter Box Cats for any Panthers based take on today's game.

Since the Devils played the Panthers last Saturday, there's not a whole lot new to say about them.  If you're not familiar with the Panthers in general, please check out the preview for last Saturday's game.  I will say that even though they've lost after regulation in their last 3 (all after beating the Devils in OT, incidentally), that they've been in games that require extra minutes is a testament to how competitive they are.  I repeat: they are not a bad team - they're in 10th in the East right now.  It only seems that way because they are in a conference filled with not bad teams, and they're seemingly struck with bad luck.  Something Devils fans have been all too familiar with this season.

According to George Richards of the Miami Herald, Scott Clemmensen is the expected starter for today's game, since Tomas Vokoun was injured in Friday's game. Clemmensen was fine against the Devils a week ago, so it shouldn't be so surprising if he has another good game.  Richards also notes that Florida's last overtime-hero Kulikov will not play along with Chris Higgins.  The loss of Kulikov is another blow to a Florida defense that has allowed an average of 32.3 shots against per game (23rd in NHL) and 35 shots by New Jersey a week ago.  It's another reason why the Devils need to do what they can to avoid fatigue holding them back.  Putting a lot of rubber on net can only help New Jersey this afternoon.

As for the Devils, please keep an eye on Patrik Elias.  You should keep an eye on him regardless, since he's an excellent player and leads the team in scoring.  However, Elias has got real hot in recent games.  I would dare say he's looking like an all-star. He's got 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 6 games, only shut out by the Panthers last Saturday in that stretch of time.  While the focus is on Kovalchuk, Elias has very much been involved in New Jersey's good play in the last two weeks.  Whether it's making plays or finishing them, he's enjoying his hockey and I hope it continues at the Rock on Sunday afternoon.

Another Devil who has been hot as of late is Martin Brodeur. He will start for New Jersey against Florida, as confirmed here in this post-game post by Gulitti.  Brodeur has allowed only 10 goals on the last 142 shots he faced in his last 5 starts - including a shutout over Pittsburgh on Thursday.  While I'm concerned about the rest of the team's fatigue, Brodeur will be fresh.  There's no real need to worry about Marty.  

There may be a called up player since the Devils could have as much as three players out today in White, Zharkov, and Palmieri assuming no one else is hurt or sick.  Adam Mair and Anssi Salmela played on Saturday afternoon because Palmieri and Zharkov were initially out; and when White left early, Salmela moved to defense as the Devils rolled with 11 forwards.  I hope any of them are able to return today, it would help the Devils out.   Keep an eye out if there are any called up players.  If they are, then you know all three aren't going to play.

Lastly, I would really like the Devils to get a win for this selfish reason.  The Devils are currently 5-4-1 this month with two games left to play.  A win tonight or in Detroit on Wednesday would ensure the Devils have taken at least half of the possible points in January.  That would cement January as their best month so far all season. That would further prove that the team has truly turned it around.  I want to be able to say this later this week for the January Month in Review post.  The Devils can make that happen today.  Please, make it happen, Devils.

Tom will have the Gamethread up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Thanks to Kevin and Matt for taking care of business yesterday; and thanks to Tom for doing the Gamethread today.  Most of all, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.