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Are we rivals? Devils, Penguins mull it over

Thursday, 03.18.2010 / 9:51 AM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Are we rivals? Devils, Penguins mull it over
The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins differ on what makes an NHL rivalry, but both teams agree their games are intense.
After sweeping the season series, 6-0, you might question whether the New Jersey Devils look at the Pittsburgh Penguins as "real" rivals.
 
Devils' captain Jamie Langenbrunner says there needs to be a few playoff wars before two teams should even be considered archrivals. By those standards, New Jersey and Pittsburgh wouldn't even be a blip on the radar. The last postseason meeting between the clubs was the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.
 
"I think you need to have a playoff series against each other to build a rivalry," he said. "In the regular season, you develop a certain amount of battle. The playoffs magnify that a lot. You're seeing each other, 6-7 nights in a row, and you get that you're-ending-someone's-season mentality. You both have to be competitive and you're battling a team for the ultimate goal -- a championship."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a totally different perspective, particularly when the team in question happens to be the Devils. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the Penguins lost all six games to the Devils this season by a combined score of 22-5 -- capped by Wednesday's 5-2 loss in New Jersey Wednesday.

"I think our games with the Devils this season have built a rivalry," Crosby told NHL.com. "I don't think it's at that point with the way it's with Philadelphia or Washington because history kind of allows for those things to develop. But I think with New Jersey, just over the course of the year, you could sense that the games have gotten more intense, more emotional, and that's not a bad thing."

Despite the lopsided outcome in the series, the excitement and intensity surrounding these games will be more than enough to create one heck of a storyline if the teams do go head-to-head at some point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Langenbrunner knows the challenges that await a defending Stanley Cup champion like Pittsburgh. He celebrated a championship with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and the Devils in '03 -- and it wasn't easy the following season.

"When you're matching yourself up against the champion, it's a big game," Langenbrunner said. "I've been fortunate enough to be on teams gunning for you all year (after winning the Stanley Cup), and it's tough because you're getting the best game from everybody every night. We've had a great focus against (the Penguins) every time and I think we were fortunate to catch them on back-to-back nights (on three occasions), but the biggest thing is we've shown good intensity and focus against them."

Devils forward David Clarkson says the intensity on the ice was ratcheted up one level higher with each meeting against Pens.

"I think it's always been a rivalry, but it's becoming more and more of an intense, playoff-like game," Clarkson said. "Every time you play that team, you have to play your best because of what they're bringing and I think this year we've done that. You watch rivalries like us against the Rangers or against Philly or the Islanders and Pittsburgh and you can tell it's building around the League."

Devils coach Jacques Lemaire admitted there's no secret to having one team's number.

"We got some breaks and guys work well and year after year it's changing," Lemaire said. "Some years you play certain teams and beat them and then you come to another season and can't. I do know that it gets harder for the team that wins the Cup because it's not only us, but everyone else shooting for them. It's a measuring stick for any team that plays them."

Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal was hoping his team would leave an impression on the Devils before the start of the playoffs.

"I thought it was critical to leave an impression on them -- that we're a team to be reckoned with and a tough team to play against," Staal said. "Still, whether we won or not, we wanted to give them a hard game so that if we do meet in the playoffs, they'll remember."

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said Wednesday's game was more about finishing higher in the standings than it was about finally sending a message. The victory over the Penguins enabled the Devils to move into second place in the Eastern Conference.

"It seems like Marty (Brodeur) has played well every time we've faced him," Orpik said. "It seems like a lot of the games we've had 35-40 shots and he's played really, really well for them. I'd say the last few games seemed more like a rivalry game or a game that was a potentially exciting matchup for playoffs."

Brodeur finished the season series 6-0-0 with a 0.83 goals-against average and .973 save percentage against the Penguins this season.

Devils center Dainius Zubrus, who scored the first of four straight goals by the Devils in Wednesday's victory, admitted playing the Penguins brings out the best in everyone.

"It's a good team and a good rivalry and we've had good games against them," he said. "They have a lot of skilled players so you have to play well. Guys get up for those games; it's kind of a measuring stick for us."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com


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