Game Day Preview: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers February 27, 2011

Florida: 26-28-7 (59PTS)
New Jersey: 26-31-4 (56PTS)
Season Series: 2-1-0

The Panthers host the New Jersey Devils in a Sunday afternoon Trade Deadline Eve game. The Cats are severely nicked up and through trades and injuries are missing 8 regulars, 6 forwards and 2 defensemen. The Panthers are still clinging to very thin playoff hopes. They are not quite out of it as they pulled out the win over Atlanta on Friday, but the Rangers and Hurricanes have started winning again, as have the Sabres, so the longshot gets ever longer.

Last meeting: The Panthers won 4-3 in overtime in New Jersey on February 4. Both of the Panthers wins against the Devils this season were in overtime, while the lone New Jersey win was a decisive 5-2 victory in late January.

Last game: The Panthers welcomed new defenseman Alexander Sulzer and bid farewell to forward Cory Stillman in Atlanta on Friday. Sulzer played after arriving mid-afternoon in place of Dennis Wideman, who was nursing an unspecified injury. Callup Joe Callahan played in place of Keaton Ellerby, who was sent back to Rochester after a few bad games. After losing both Rostislav Olesz and Chris Higgins to injury, the Panthers hung on to 1-1 tie and beat the Thrashers in the shootout. Steve Bernier, waived the day before, but in the lineup, scored the shootout winner. The Devils lost to the Lightning 2-1 in Tampa.

Notes: The Panthers once again were active in the trade market, trading team captain Bryan McCabe to the New York Rangers for forward Tim Kennedy and a third-round draft pick. Kennedy has been playing all season in the minors, but the Panthers hope to sneak him through re-entry waivers as he now can not play for any other NHL team this season.

Injuries: Jack Skille (day to day), High ankle sprain, unknown (2/23/2011). Ryan Carter (day to day), upper-body injury (2/12/2011). Chris Higgins, thumb, unknown (2/25/2011), Dmitry Kulikov (IR), Ankle, out 2 weeks (2/11/2011). Evgeni Dadonov (IR), broken finger, out a month (3/3/2011). Shawn Matthias (IR), broken ankle, out 6-8 weeks (1/31/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011).

Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur will make his first start for the Devils since returning from injury. He was injured in a game on February 6. The Panthers have not announced their starting goalie for today, but Scott Clemmensen has been good against his former club and might get the nod tonight.

Lines: The Panthers called up forwards Kenndal McArdle and Hugh Jessiman from Rochester for today's game. Jessiman was obtained from Chicago in the Frolik trade. He was a first round pick of the Rangers in 2003, and is the only player drafted in the first round that year who has yet to appear in an NHL game. My best guess of the lines, based on last game:
Booth - Weiss - Repik
McArdle? - Reasoner - Dvorak
Jessiman? - Santorelli - Bernier
Hordichuk - Timmins - Thomas

This game had the potential to be a lottery seeding game, but with the Cats' win Friday night, they are again 3 points ahead of the 27th place Devils. Nevertheless, although the Devils lost their last game, they are 8-1-1 and were on a ten game unbeaten streak when they lost on Friday. The Panthers will have a tough time with this suddenly surging team.

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