By ALLAN KREDA
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Sam Reinhart scored twice and Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 saves as the Florida Panthers beat New Jersey 4-2 Saturday night, handing the first-place Devils their fifth straight loss.
Gustav Forsling and Carter Verhaege also scored and Aaron Ekblad had two assists for Florida, which beat New Jersey for the fifth time in six meetings and improved to 4-1-0 in its last five visits to Prudential Center. Bobrovsky, making his sixth straight start, got his 343rd career victory and improved to 18-5-1 against the Devils.
“I feel good, I’ve got some rhythm,” said the 34-year-old Bobrovsky, who is third among active goaltenders in wins. ”The guys did a great job to compete. We are building chemistry.”
Erik Haula had a goal and an assist and John Marino also scored for the Devils, who are 0-4-1 on their current skid. Akira Schmid finished with 25 saves.
“Our group as a whole has to be better,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. ”We didn’t have enough puck management.”
Reinhart gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 8:54 of the first period, finishing off a passing sequence with Aleksander Barkov and Ekblad. Barkov didn’t play the final two periods after sustaining an undisclosed injury in the first.
Forsling made it 2-0 at 7:49 of the second with his fifth goal of the season,
Marino got the Devils on the board with 8:33 left in the middle period, firing a long shot past Bobrovsky for this third. Jack Hughes had an assist on the play, increasing his team lead to 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists).
Reinhart restored the two-goal margin with 41 seconds remaining in the second, tipping a shot by Ekblad past Schmid for his 11th goal of the season.
“To get one early was key,” Ekblad said. “We got our lead and found a way to protect it.”
Haula pulled the Devils to 3-2 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third with his second goal of the season, but Verhaeghe’s empty-netter — for his team-leading 16th goal — with 1:11 left sealed the Panthers’ win.
“I’m really proud of our team. We fought hard,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. ”And our goaltender was really good.”
The Devils have a challenging stretch ahead with a visits to Carolina and Florida followed by two straight home games against league-best Boston before and after the Christmas break.
Ruff expressed confidence that his team’s slump can be solved by focusing on what made them so successful the first two months of the season – generating offense from effective defense.
“Our strength is how we play defensively,” Ruff said. ”We can’t get away from it. That’s been the backbone of our team.”
New Jersey has totaled just four goals in its last three games, all defeats at home — including 2-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday and 4-1 to Dallas on Tuesday. Before that, the Devils lost 4-3 in overtime at the New York Rangers on Monday and started their losing streak with a 6-4 loss at home to the Islanders last Friday night. They had won 21 of 24 after losing their first two games of the season before their current skid.
New Jersey’s hold on first place in the Metropolitan Division was reduced to two points following Carolina’s overtime win over Dallas on Saturday.
Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton played in his 700th career game.
Panthers: At Boston on Monday night.
Devils: At Carolina on Tuesday night.
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