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Devils could deal knockout blow at the Garden

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur starts Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game at MSG. GETTY IMAGES
Since they’re not headed to the playoffs themselves, the Devils say they don’t care much about who’s in or out. They have two games left and just want to finish the year on a high note.

But Saturday features a matchup with the Rangers, whose postseason lives could hang in the balance.

For their final act of 2010-11, the Jersey Boys will have a chance to bring the curtain down on Broadway.

“That’s kind of exciting,” said Devils ironman Travis Zajac. “It’s a big game, no matter what. Every year you play them, no matter what position you’re in, it’s always a fun game to play in. It’s a great rivalry. To be able to beat a team that’s trying to get in the playoffs, that’s always sweeter, too.”

It’s a big game, no matter what. Every year you play them, no matter what position you’re in, it’s always a fun game to play in. It’s a great rivalry. - Travis Zajac
The eighth-place Rangers hold a two-point lead on the Hurricanes, who were set to visit Atlanta on Friday. The Thrashers thumped the Rangers, 3-0, at the Garden on Thursday.’s Corey Masisak breaks down the race for the final two spots in the East:

“New York needs to win Saturday against rival New Jersey, and the Rangers need Carolina to drop at least one point or for the Sabres to lose twice in regulation. The Rangers could also slide into the final spot if the Hurricanes win twice in the shootout and they beat the Devils in regulation or overtime.

Buffalo is going to own the tiebreaker against the Rangers, and Carolina will own the second tiebreaker against New York if both teams end up with the same number of non-shootout wins.”

Some of the Devils players were tight-lipped about what Saturday’s game means. Patrik Elias joked after practice that he’d answer questions about anything except the Rangers.

“It’ll be a pretty emotional game and a big game, obviously, for them,” Elias said. “Us, we’ve just got to go out and just play.”

Ilya Kovalchuk’s breakaway goal against Henrik Lundqvist was the lone tally in the last installment of the Battle of the Hudson. The Devils took a 1-0 decision at the Rock on Feb. 18.

“I just want to play well,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Devils fans there. I don’t care by now who’s going to be in the playoffs and who’s going to win the Cup and what’s going to happen there. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I just want to finish the season strong and prepare myself for next year.”

Martin Brodeur will start. He made 25 saves for a 3-2 triumph in his last encounter with the Rangers on Feb. 3.

“I think it’s a fun matchup,” Brodeur said. “It became a fun matchup for us and our fans. We’ll definitely see what happens tonight with Carolina. We have to play, so might as well try to make it a good one.”

The Rangers have been here before. A year ago, a shootout loss in Philadelphia eliminated them from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season.

“It’s a situation that these guys put themselves [in] again back-to-back years on the last game of the year that could be big for them,” Brodeur said. “It’s their team, it’s what they do. We’re going to go out there and try to do what we’ve been doing, working hard and win a hockey game. A lot of attention will be drawn to it just because of the rivalry.”

Jacques Lemaire confirmed that the Devils will be without Dainius Zubrus, Colin White and Anton Volchenkov the rest of the way.

Zubrus left in the first period of Wednesday’s win over Toronto after he was boarded by Joey Crabb. White and Volchenkov have been hampered by lower body injuries suffered March 25 in Pittsburgh.

Lemaire has shrugged off questions about playing spoiler, but said it’s a positive if it gets his squad fired up to compete.

“Anything that can motivate you is good,” he said. “Anything. You need motivation. Mine is winning games as a coach. It’s getting guys to play so they play good, I’m proud of them, that’s it. One thing I know, we’re not in.”

The Devils close out the season Sunday against Boston at Prudential Center. Game time is 3 p.m.

Friday’s practice was the last of the season. To make it interesting, Brodeur and David Clarkson put bragging rights on the line in a shootout contest.

Brodeur beat him, stopping two of three.

“I do have the bragging rights all summer, so he’s going to get a lot of texts this summer from me,” he said.

Was Brodeur really surprised to have won?

“I picked an easy guy,” he joked. “It was best out of three for shootouts. He scored the first one, too, so I had to stop back-to-back, under the gun.”

Clarkson had his own take on how it played out.

“The first one, I don’t know if you heard, but it went bar and in, and he tried to say it didn’t go in,” he said. “The next two I missed.”

Had he won, Clarkson was ready to remind Brodeur for a while.

“I planned on sending a text that would go out every day at the same time,” he explained.

Better luck next year, Clarky.
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