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Devils go for fifth straight in first trip to MSG

Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:30 PM / NHL Insider

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Devils go for fifth straight in first trip to MSG
It took four months into the season, but New Jersey travels to face its cross-river rival for the first time in the 2011-12 campaign, looking to extend its win streak to a season-high five games.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Of all the things that have Martin Brodeur excited about his first game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden this season, the renovated visiting locker room is what's piquing his interest the most.

Before the Rangers' home arena was upgraded during the offseason, the visiting room was notoriously dingy, so much so that it wasn't uncommon to see a cockroach or mouse slithering along the floor.

"It wasn't the best place before," said Brodeur, who will be in net Tuesday night against the Rangers as the Devils look for their fifth straight win since the All-Star break. "It'll be nice to see how they worked it out. It's got to be better. It's hard to make it worse."

The remodeling of MSG that bled into late October coupled with a scheduling quirk has the Devils making their first trip across the Hudson River later in the season than usual. The Devils began their four-game winning streak with a stirring 4-3 home win against the Rangers last Tuesday, sparked by a game-tying goal by David Clarkson off a lucky bounce in the final seconds of regulation and capped with an Ilya Kovalchuk goal in the shootout.

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The Devils have scored 19 goals during this streak that has included wins against the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins, three Atlantic Division foes the Devils are also trying to chase down in the Eastern Conference standings.

Ask coach Peter DeBoer why the Devils are clicking after the break, and he says there's no one thing that has been the cause of the turnaround.

"We didn't come out of the break with any magic solutions," DeBoer said. "I didn't come up with a new system, or new things to emphasize. I think that we came back realizing we all needed to raise our level the first three or four games out of the break. I think you're seeing some of that."

Kovalchuk has been the catalyst on the offensive side of things. In his last four games, he has 3 goals, 7 assists, the shootout winner against the Rangers, and he even dropped the gloves against the Flyers on Saturday.

Facing the Rangers for the second time in seven days, Kovalchuk expects another physical contest and knows the importance of beating teams ahead of the Devils in the standings.

"It's always important. They're eight points ahead of us," Kovalchuk said. "We can narrow the gap a little bit. It's the best way to do it, when you face each other. It's always a big rivalry, so we're all excited to play that game tonight.

"It'll be as always -- rough, man's game, lot of hitting."

"We're going to play a lot of games against these guys, so we have no choice but to be successful," Brodeur said. "For us, we just have to play. We're playing well in our system, doing a lot of good things. We're putting the puck in the net lately, and I think that's a big reason why we're streaking with wins here and we have to keep it going."

And to think, this four-game winning streak might not have been possible without that bounce off the stanchion against the Rangers last week.

"Yeah, you're happy when they go your way and you'll take them when you get them, but you can't just rely on a lucky bounce or a break," Clarkson said. "It does happen. Everyone knows that's part of the game. I don't know if that's the reason we've continued to win, but it definitely helps out when you get that. It's a definite confidence boost."

Wins against the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins are the best way to quickly move up the standings, but for a team that missed the postseason last year, it's also a nice way for the Devils to prove to themselves they can compete with the best teams in the conference. With the Rangers sitting atop the East now and the League standings at times this season, there's no better team to measure up against at the moment.

"I think it's huge," Clarkson said. "Last year was not our best season and we all tried to learn something from it. But we know what's ahead of us. You look at those standings, and they seem to get closer and closer every year after the break. You have to go out and find a way to get some points."

"We feel good," Brodeur said. "After the break, we went go, go, go. We had hard practices, hard games, emotional games. So it was nice to get a little time off (Monday). It's a battle for us. We want to keep it going. Our next stop is MSG tonight."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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With this being the last year [at the Coliseum], we'd love to try to get back to the dance like we did against Pittsburgh and prove ourselves and go even further. It's an important year.

— New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano