Devils-Panthers Preview

If Florida ends up missing out on the Atlantic Division title, it will likely have done nearly all it could against the team that overtakes it. Rather, home struggles down the stretch could wind up costing the Panthers.

The second of a three-game homestand comes Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils with Florida hoping to avoid its first three-game home span without a point in two years. And it will have to do so without one of its top scorers.

The Panthers (42-25-9) finished a 2-1-0 road trip with Saturday's 5-2 win in Tampa Bay to complete a 4-1-0 season against the Lightning. It put them two points up on their division foes before Tampa's 3-0 home win Monday over Toronto.

The Maple Leafs turned around and handed the Panthers a 5-2 defeat a night later to keep the teams even at 93 points. That won't work for the Panthers because the Lightning have six more regulation and overtime wins - the first tiebreaker.

Boston (88 points) and Detroit (87) linger, but the Atlantic race appears to be confined to the Sunshine State.

"We just have to regroup," Jaromir Jagr told the team's official website. "There's always next game. It's not like we lost and we're out of the playoffs. We have to forget about it and get ready for next game. It's going to be even bigger."

Jagr had an assist and is a point away from his 18th 60-point season, while Jonathan Huberdeau scored for a third straight game. Those two might be asked to do even more if Vincent Trocheck misses time. The forward, who had scored in four straight games to tie Jagr for the team lead with 25 goals, left in the second period after blocking a shot, and it seems that he suffered a non-displaced ankle fracture that will likely sideline him for at least the rest of the regular season.

He's expected to be in a cast for 10 days before being re-evaluated in time for a hopeful playoff return. In the meantime, 5-foot-6 center Rocco Grimaldi will likely be called up in Trocheck's absence.

"He was our best player for a long time, so it's tough," Jagr said. "Not only we lost this game, we lost our best player. Hopefully somebody else is going to step up. He was playing so well and the whole line (Trocheck-Jussi Jokinen-Reilly Smith) was playing so good."

The immediate problems were on the penalty kill. Toronto was 3 for 4 on the power play after the Lightning went 2 for 5 three days earlier.

Over a 2-2-1 home span, Florida has given up 4.20 goals per game with opponents' power plays (6 of 16, 37.5 percent) nearly tripling its own (2 of 15, 13.3). The Panthers last lost three straight home games in regulation from March 27-April 4, 2014.

Since acquiring Jagr from New Jersey on Feb. 26, 2015, the Panthers have won two of three in the series with the 44-year-old recording five points.

He's certainly on the better side of the series considering winning out likely won't be enough for New Jersey (37-32-8) to make the playoffs.

The Devils, however, will have a significant impact on the Atlantic race, following Thursday's game with Saturday's in Tampa before a home meeting with the Lightning five days later.

They remained solid defensively in Tuesday's 2-1 home win over Boston and have limited opponents to six goals over a 3-1-1 span.

"We can only control our games," said goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who finished with a career-high 29 saves. "We just have to hope there are a few losses from other teams. We just have to win our games."

New Jersey could have Cory Schneider, who had been with AHL Albany for conditioning after suffering an MCL sprain on March 4. He's back with the team but has posted a 3.45 goals-against average and .869 save percentage over a 1-7-0 span.

Florida's Roberto Luongo has given up four goals in three straight home games with an .855 save percentage, as well as 11 with a .756 mark on a three-game skid against New Jersey.

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