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GAME: Florida Panthers (16-20-5) at New Jersey Devils (16-18-5).
TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
What a difference five weeks have made for the Florida Panthers.
When the Panthers last met Devils in November, they came away with their 12th straight loss.
Florida's fortunes, however, have changed, and they visit New Jersey at Continental Airlines Arena looking for their fourth win in a row and eighth in 11 games.
One key to the Panthers' recent surge has been the play of Canadian Olympic goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is 7-2-1 in his last 10 games with a 2.19 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
On offense, Olli Jokinen - a member of the Finnish Olympic team - has six goals and 10 assists during a 10-game points streak.
The Panthers extended their winning streak to a season-high three games with a 2-1 win Sunday over the Buffalo Sabres in the start of a five-game road trip. Jokinen assisted on Gary Roberts' power-play goal in the third period, snapping a 1-1 tie, and Luongo finished with 28 saves.
"Guys are aware that this is probably the most important stretch for our team this year," said Luongo. "We definitely wanted to get off to a good start tonight and have a good week."
The surge also has gotten the Panthers back into the playoff race. Florida begins play five points behind the Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Panthers may be without top defenseman and former Devils first-round draft pick Mike Van Ryn, who left Sunday's game in the third period with a quadriceps injury. He leads Florida defensemen with 19 points and a plus-7 rating.
New Jersey has lost five of its last six games and is 2-5 since team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello took over as interim coach last month after Larry Robinson's resignation.
The Devils lost 6-3 to the Maple Leafs Saturday after allowing four goals during a seven-minute span of the second period. It was the second straight game that the Devils allowed six goals.
Lamoriello implied some personnel changes may be in the works to shake up his slumping club, which has lost 11 of its last 14 games.
"I'm the person who has to find those answers and those solutions," Lamoriello said. "We have some players who are not performing up to expectations. That's not acceptable."
One of the few productive Devils of late is Scott Gomez, who scored all three goals in the loss to Toronto, including one on a penalty shot.
Gomez, a member of the U.S. Olympic team, has five goals and three assists in New Jersey's last three games. He also has two goals and seven assists in his last four games against the Panthers, highlighted by a five-point game in a 5-2 win on March 3, 2004.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 2): Panthers - 37 points, 4th place, 15 PB, Southeast Division. Devils - 37 points, 3rd place, 19 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 18 goals, 25 assists and 43 points; Chris Gratton, 59 PIM. Devils - Brian Gionta, 21 goals and 39 points; Gomez, 19 assists; Colin White, 45 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 2): Panthers - Power play: 15.2 percent (32 for 210), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (219 for 265), tied for 12th. Devils - Power play: 14.6 percent (37 for 253), 26th. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (162 for 197), 15th.
GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (16-16-5, 2 SO, 2.99 GAA); Jamie McLennan (0-4-0, 0, 3.10). Devils - Martin Brodeur (14-14-3, 0, 2.94); Scott Clemmensen (2-4-2, 0, 3.83).
SEASON SERIES: Devils, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 23; Devils, 5-1. At Sunrise, Fla., the Devils scored three unanswered goals in the first period and handed the Panthers with their 12th straight loss.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 4-14-3 on the road; Devils - 10-7-3 at home.
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