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Devils Edge Panthers 3-2

The New Jersey Devils picked up right where they left off before the Olympic break. So did the Florida Panthers.

Mike Dunham, stepping for star goalie Martin Brodeur, made 23 saves Wednesday night as the Devils beat the Panthers 3-2.

The Devils, the top team in the Eastern Conference at 35-16-6, stretched their winning streak to four games and unbeaten streak to five at 4-0-1. The Panthers are 0-3-1 in their last four games.

"We were going pretty good before the break and wanted to get back to it," Devils forward Dave Andreychuk said. "But it's not easy and not an easy place for us to play."

Despite not playing a second for Canada in the Olympics, Brodeur, who boasts the best goals-against-average and most victories in the NHL, was given the night off by coach Jacques Lemaire.

Dunham made a leg save on Ray Whitney's slap shot with 5:30 left in the scoreless third period to preserve the victory, his first since Dec. 10.

"I knew it was possible with Marty and all the travel he's done, he had to be a little tired," Dunham said. "I felt comfortable and confident right from the drop of the puck."

Denis Pederson's power-play goal keyed a three-goal second period, but it was a shorthanded goal by Petr Sykora, his 13th, at 1:05 of the period that ignited the Devils.

"Anytime you score a shorthanded goal, the momentum switches over to the team that gets it," said Tom Fitzgerald, whose first-period goal gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. "It was the best hockey we played in a while. ... That shorthanded goal deflated us."

With the teams tied at 2 in the second period, a turnover in the Panthers' zone during a Devils power play set up Pederson. His slap shot from the faceoff circle went through John Vanbiesbrouck's legs for the go-ahead goal at 12:51.

"It seems when we make a mistake on the puck it winds up in our net," Panthers coach Bryan Murray said. "That's been our story the last couple of weeks."

The Panthers took a 2-1 lead at 2:41 on Gord Murphy's soft shot from the blue line that eluded a screened-out Dunham.

"That woke me up," Dunham said.

At 9:50 of the second, defenseman Lyle Odelein's slap shot from the blue line was deflected in by Bob Carpenter to make it 2-2. It was Odelein's second assist of the game.

"When you got character on a team, a lot of veterans, you know what it takes to win," Odelein said. "The break was good, it allowed those nagging injuries to heal. It's exciting, only 25 games left and everybody's battling for a playoff. It's fun time."

The Devils are 31-1-1 when leading after two periods.

New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko played his first game since Oct. 30, after entering an alcohol abuse program.

The game was delayed eight minutes early in the third period after Terry Carkner's check of Krzysztof Oliwa into the boards shattered the glass.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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