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Devils a different team since last Island trip

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur is undefeated since returning from injury. – Two weeks ago at Nassau Coliseum, the Devils ended a frustrating road trip with a 4-0 loss to the last-place New York Islanders.

Coming off of a split in Florida and Tampa Bay, the Devils ran into New York’s Yann Danis, who stopped 40 shots to record his second career shutout and hand the Devils their first loss in five meetings with the Isles this season.

A lot has gone right for Jersey’s Team since then.

First, Martin Brodeur returned to the lineup and recorded two shutouts as the Devils swept last week’s three-game homestand. Leading scorer Zach Parise (38g-39a-77pts) dominated with back-to-back three-point games to finish the set with seven points (3g-4a). The Devils outshot their opponents 120-68.

Then, New Jersey extended its winning streak to four games Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime triumph at Toronto, courtesy of Johnny Oduya’s clincher with 11.4 seconds left in the extra frame.

Undefeated since Brodeur’s comeback, the Devils have outscored opponents, 17-4, on their current surge and return Saturday to Nassau, where they close out the season series against the Isles.

The Devils’ mindset will be different this time around. 

“That last visit was a little bit of a wake-up call for us on the way we were playing,” captain Jamie Langenbrunner said after Friday’s practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “We were giving up a lot of shots and a lot of chances, and getting away from our game a little bit. Give them credit, they played well and beat us up pretty good. Now we have to focus back on our game of playing good defense, getting a lot of shots and creating opportunities. We’re a different team coming in this time than we were 14 days ago.”

Brendan Shanahan commented that just as the Devils didn’t get down after that loss to the Isles, they’re not about to become overconfident, either.

“We didn’t come out of the Island feeling like the loss was any more meaningful than a poorly played game by us, and we’re not going to the Island thinking anything other than, ‘They don’t care that we’ve won four in a row,’” Shanahan said. “They’re going to try and beat us. If we strut in there with our chests out based on our past week’s resume, then we’re not going to play well. I don’t think that loss on the Island affected us, and I don’t think our last four games are affecting us. It’s how we show up [Saturday].”

The Devils (42-19-3, 87pts) continue to lead the Atlantic Division by nine points over second-place Philadelphia; two points ahead of Washington for second place in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey trails top-seeded Boston by six.

The Flyers have dropped three of four (1-2-1), while the Bruins are winless in three straight (0-2-1).

Brodeur has stepped in seamlessly for New Jersey, climbing to within three of both Patrick Roy’s all-time wins record (551), and Terry Sawchuk’s NHL shutouts mark (103). He has quickly quelled any concern that adding a four-time Vezina Trophy winner to the mix would somehow alter the Devils’ gameplan.

“People who said that don’t understand sports, or just don’t understand winners,” Shanahan said. “You can never not benefit from having a superstar with a championship resume like Marty’s. If Marty coming back had hurt our team, then we wouldn’t be the team that we think we are. I didn’t expect that to happen, and it hasn’t. People who think like that just don’t think the way we do.”

The new face in the lineup Saturday will be that of defenseman Niclas Havelid, acquired Monday along with a minor leaguer from Atlanta in exchange for defenseman Anssi Salmela.

Including the addition of Havelid, Brent Sutter’s team is healthy and whole with 18 games remaining. But don’t expect the head coach to sit back and relax now.

“You never rest easy. You never drop your guard,” Sutter said. “You’re always trying to find ways to make your team better, to play better. It’s a time of year when you want your group to be very focused because you know that in six weeks, the second season starts but you want to finish really strong and playing well. You don’t want any bad habits creeping into your game. I’ve learned a few things from last year that I’m not going to allow to happen this year.”
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