Injuries and poor play have the New Jersey Devils scrambling down the stretch.
The Atlantic Division leaders hope to end a three-game losing streak when they continue a lengthy road trip Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
New Jersey (43-23-8) seemed poised to make a run at the best record in the conference after finishing February with 86 points and an 11-point lead over second-place Pittsburgh at the top of the Atlantic.
The Penguins have climbed within two points of the Devils, who remained stuck on 94 points for the third straight game after a 3-1 defeat at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
"It's no fun losing," said defenseman Colin White, whose Devils have won only three of 10 games this month.
New Jersey fell to 0-2 on the five-game road trip as forwards Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias and John Madden are all out due to groin injuries. Elias and Madden have not played since March 14 while Gionta has been out since March 6, and it's unclear if any of them will return on this road swing.
Elias and Gionta have combined to score 45 goals this season and their absences have been noticeable. New Jersey has scored just four goals during its three-game slide.
The lack of punch has given the Devils little margin for error and it hurt them Thursday when rookie defenseman Johnny Oduya's errant pass was picked off to set up Tampa Bay's go-ahead goal in the third period.
"We gave them a gift and they capitalized on it," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said.
The Devils also played without center Erik Rasmussen, who is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
New Jersey and Pittsburgh each have eight games left, although the teams do not have any meetings remaining.
The Devils have won eight of the last 10 meetings against the Panthers (31-30-13), including two of three this season. New Jersey scored a total of five power-play goals in home victories over Florida on Oct. 26 and Nov. 11 before going 0-for-2 on the power play in a 4-2 road loss on Jan. 27.
This game likely will match Brodeur against the Panthers' Ed Belfour, the two winningest active goaltenders in the league. Brodeur has 488 career victories and Belfour 481, and they trail only Patrick Roy (551) on the all-time list.
Belfour will try to bounce back after one of his worst efforts of the season after he gave up four goals on nine shots, including three goals on the first three shots of the second period in a 4-2 loss to Ottawa on Thursday. He was pulled for Craig Anderson at 12:01 of the second.
"Tonight is one of those nights where he (Belfour) just didn't come up with the saves," Florida coach Jacques Martin said.
It marked just the fourth loss in 12 games for the Panthers, who have 75 points and a host of teams above them in the playoff race.
Florida leading scorer Olli Jokinen has four goals and five assists during a three-game point streak.
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