Preview: Devils at Panthers
Disappointment once again is the storyline for the Florida Panthers, who have missed the playoffs in 16 of 18 seasons dating to the 2000-01 campaign. The Panthers, who are locked into fifth place in the Atlantic Division, will try to end 2018-19 on a high note when they host the lowly New Jersey Devils in Saturday night's regular-season finale.
Although Florida had its three-game winning streak halted in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday night, it will carry a four-game point streak into Saturday's matchup. “We have to finish strong, come in with pride and take care of business here tomorrow in front of our home fans,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. The Devils were toast after losing reigning NHL Most Valuable Player Taylor Hall for the rest of the season in the final game before the Christmas break and will finish last in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey has dropped 13 of its last 18 (5-11-2) overall and eight of its last 10 to the Panthers, including the last six visits to South Florida.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG-Plus2 (New Jersey), FS Florida
ABOUT THE DEVILS (30-41-10): Although Cory Schneider played fairly well down the stretch after returning from injury, rookie Mackenzie Blackwood will get the call in the regular-season finale and face Florida for the first time. Center Pavel Zacha, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft, is having a strong finish to the campaign with seven points in his last eight games and needs two more to match his career high of 25. Forward Blake Coleman has scored two of his career-high 22 goals in a pair of meetings against Florida this season.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (36-32-13): Roberto Luongo turned 40 on Friday, one day before he will be in net in what could be the final game of his career. "Obviously I still love to play the game, but there's other factors involved," Luongo said. "I want to make sure that I'm focused on playing the game and playing to the best of my ability, and for that to happen I can't feel like it's my last game." Jonathan Huberdeau has scored six times in as many games to set career highs in goals (29) and points (90), including four in two games versus the Devils.
1. Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has 26 of his career-high 94 points in his last 15 games.
2. Devils leading scorer Kyle Palmieri will miss the finale with a lower-body injury.
3. Panthers rookie G Sam Montembeault was among three players loaned to Springfield of the American Hockey League.
PREDICTION: Panthers 4, Devils 3