The Panthers exorcized some Prudential Center demons Thursday night as they dominated play from start to finish in a 5-1 rout of the Devils.
Florida had lost eight consecutive games here dating to its Game 3 victory in the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Panthers have won their past two by identical scores heading into Friday’s game at Carolina and have captured seven of their past nine road games.
Thursday’s win also pulled Florida into a virtual tie with New Jersey for the final playoff spot in the East.
“It’s good to come in here and play real well,” said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has won eight of 11 yet lost here 4-2 less than two weeks ago.
“The last game here we played a strong second and third, but the first one cost us. I thought [Thursday] we played the full 60. ... We talked about always being close with these guys, and now we’re tied. We’re in the race and we’re battling, just trying to get points.”
On Thursday, the Panthers brought a strong game to Newark and battered goalie Cory Schneider all while backup Al Montoya continued to shine when given the chance.
Montoya’s 15 saves earned him his third consecutive win, although his bid for his first shutout since New Year’s Eve in 2013 was broken up when Sergey Kalinin scored with 6:22 remaining.
“I wasn’t sucking wind tonight, [aside] from a couple of chances, it was a solid, predictable game on our part,” said Montoya, who came within a minute of shutting out Washington in his previous start last week.
“We kept the puck in their end, made them work. ... We knew what kind of game this was. They’re right there with us, and we needed to push. It was a huge statement for ourselves.”
Montoya didn’t have much action for much of the night as Florida continued the dominant style it showed here 11 days prior. In the final two periods of an eventual 4-2 loss to the Devils, the Panthers dictated the pace and dominated puck possession.
On Thursday, the Panthers played the same style from the outset — and took the only lead they needed midway through the first when Jussi Jokinen charged in on Schneider and buried his chance.
“We’re having fun, and when you’re winning you enjoy coming to the rink,” said Brandon Pirri, who scored early in the second period. “We’re just enjoying the ride. We know how we have to play if we’re going to be good. Guys are buying in. That’s what it boils down to.”
The Panthers, who had lost 10 of 14 to the Devils, took a 2-0 lead into the first break when Dmitry Kulikov scored his first goal of the season by firing a wrister from the right circle past Schneider.
“We talked before the game that we’re playing good, consistent hockey and we needed a good start,” said Kulikov, who played perhaps his best game of the season.
In the second, Florida took complete control when Pirri fed Logan Shaw, then jumped all over the rebound from Shaw’s shot 2:44 into the period. The Panthers made it 4-0 in the third when winger Reilly Smith continued his scoring tear by backhanding a loose puck through with 12:32 left.
▪ Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves in Tuesday’s win over the Islanders, will be back in net Friday.
▪ Jaromir Jagr returned after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. He assisted on Kulikov's goal and played 15 shifts.
Friday: Panthers at Hurricanes
When/where: 7 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Carolina leads 54-42-11.
Scouting report: Florida swept the season series for the first time in franchise history last season and won this season’s first meeting 4-1 at Raleigh on Oct. 13 after Connor Brickley scored his first NHL goal in the third period. … Carolina is 4-2-1 in December.