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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Devils host Rangers with first place in reach

The New Jersey Devils will try to take over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division tonight when they host the rival New York Rangers at Prudential Center.

New Jersey enters tonight one point behind the Penguins for the top spot in the division as well as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are currently fourth in the East and seven points ahead of fifth-seeded Ottawa.

The Devils drew even with Pittsburgh thanks to a 6-3 win over Columbus on Tuesday, but the Penguins regained the top spot with a point in Wednesday's shootout loss to Washington.

New Jersey ended a two-game slide with the home win over the Blue Jackets and is 5-2-1 in its last eight games. Zach Parise and Travis Zajac both scored twice to lead the Devils to the easy win.

"We aren't looking at the standings," said Zajac. "We have to start winning games and playing good hockey, and tonight we did that."

Ilya Kovalchuk and Paul Martin also scored for the Devils, who have captured five of their last six home games and will complete a three-game homestand tonight. New Jersey is 25-10-1 overall as the host this year.

Martin Brodeur made 19 saves in the win, which marked the 40th victory of the season for the future Hall of Famer. Brodeur, who already holds the all-time NHL mark for 40-win campaigns by a netminder, now has eight for his career.

"I expect myself to put up these kind of numbers because I play so (often), but it's always nice to get it done," said Brodeur. "It's a big number and there are not many guys in the league who are able to do it, and now I have eight of them in my career."

New Jersey could also clinch a playoff spot tonight with some help from Toronto, which is playing in Atlanta. If the Devils win this evening, then a loss of any kind by the Thrashers would seal up a postseason berth for Jersey. The Devils could also clinch if they get a point against the Rangers and Atlanta loses in regulation.

While the Devils are still in the mix for the division title and one of the top seeds in the East, the Rangers' playoff chances are hanging in the balance.

New York is 10th in the East and is five points behind Boston for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

The Rangers picked up a decisive home win over the rival Islanders on Wednesday, posting a 5-0 victory at Madison Square Garden. Marian Gaborik recorded two goals and an assist, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots for his third shutout of the season.

Gaborik's goals came in the first and third periods and he now has 39 tallies on the season. Another goal would give the Slovakian his second 40-goal campaign.

Artem Anisimov, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi also scored for the Rangers.

The Rangers are playing on back-to-back nights for the 11th time this season. New York has a 6-2-2 record in the second game of back-to-backs so far in 2009-10.

Tonight marks the start of a six-game road trip for New York, which is 16-15-3 as the guest this year and has lost three of its last five away from the Big Apple.

The Devils have won three of the five meetings with New York this year and Jersey have taken six of nine overall in the series. The Rangers also have three losses in their last four trips to the Garden State.


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