Coming off their first shutout loss, the New Jersey Devils are in an unfamiliar position as they return home to try and avoid their longest losing streak of the season.
Tomas Vokoun has left plenty of opponents struggling offensively, and the Florida Panthers' goaltender will likely be in net as his team goes for a fourth straight victory Wednesday night.
New Jersey (32-14-1) closed its five-game road trip with its second three-game skid of the season, getting outshot 46-20 in a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday. The Devils hadn't been shut out since a 4-0 playoff loss to Carolina on April 26.
"We looked tired and I don't think we were sharp mentally making plays," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "There's no doubt we need rest."
The Devils, who've surrendered their Eastern Conference lead and slipped to third place behind Buffalo and Washington, won't have much time off before attempting to avoid their first four-game slide since a six-game skid from March 22-April 1.
Their first-period performance against the Islanders was especially troubling, as they were outshot 18-7 and outscored 2-0, a margin that could have been worse if not for a number of brilliant saves by Martin Brodeur.
"We have to make a special effort of getting ourselves prepared to play right from the get-go," Brodeur said. "(Monday) was just a bad game."
Even Brodeur got the third period off, as Lemaire replaced him with Yann Danis after allowing four goals in 40 minutes. Brodeur has started 26 consecutive games for New Jersey, and the 37-year-old leads all East goalies in minutes.
Vokoun hasn't had quite as heavy a workload with former Devils backup Scott Clemmensen behind him, and Clemmensen made 26 saves in a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Dec. 11.
That was Brodeur's 13th loss in 53 starts against Florida, and the Panthers' second win in their last 10 visits to New Jersey.
Vokoun is likely to make his 10th consecutive start Wednesday after earning his fifth shutout with 27 saves in a 1-0 win over Atlanta on Monday. He is 4-0-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last five starts.
"He's been outstanding all year but he's been very, very good lately," coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's in a real groove and he's given us a lot of confidence. That's been a part of us holding leads. We know we're going to get a big save at a key time, and he did that again (Monday)."
The win over the Thrashers was Florida's third straight, matching its longest winning streak of the season as it tries to climb into playoff position in the East. The Panthers (21-20-8) haven't reached the postseason since 2000, and they last won four in a row during a seven-game run from March 2-16, 2008.
"If we want to go anywhere we have to string some wins together and hopefully keep this thing rolling," Vokoun said.
After scoring five goals in the previous four games, Florida left wing Rostislav Olesz had an assist on the lone goal Monday. The Panthers played without leading goal scorer Stephen Weiss, who is day to day with a lower-body injury.
The Devils will remain without veteran center Patrik Elias, who left the ice on a stretcher after a hard hit Saturday at Colorado and has been placed on injured reserve.