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Devils head to MSG on a roll

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Undefeated since the All-Star break, the Devils were rewarded Monday with an optional practice that saw just eight players hit the ice.

New Jersey topped the Penguins, 5-2, on Sunday, matching a season high with their fourth straight win. Even more impressive is that three of the victories came against opponents ahead of them in the division, including the Rangers and Flyers.

Coach Peter DeBoer gave his squad a chance to rest and recharge before Tuesday's visit to Madison Square Garden. Martin Brodeur will start in goal.

"We've had physical games lately, a lot of banging, a lot of battling – it's that time of year," DeBoer said. "I think both mentally and physically, you need to take the breaks when you can."

The Devils stormed out of the break with a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers on Jan. 31. They rallied from three one-goal deficits en route to their League-leading ninth shootout win and NHL-best 12th victory by shootout or overtime.

This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, and first at MSG. New Jersey is 1-1 against its cross-river rivals.

"It never gets old," DeBoer said. "I'm glad we're playing them because there's an internal motivator there already because of the rivalry, because of the history between the two teams, because they're our division rival. Where they sit in the standings, not a lot needs to be said."

He's expecting another battle on Tuesday: "They don't give you choice but to get involved physically if you want to compete."

Adam Larsson (bruised lower back) has not resumed skating and will not play. Ryan Carter (hand) is skating on his own, but is doubtful.

Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton, Steve Bernier, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina and Johan Hedberg took part in Monday's optional.

Henrique returned to the lineup Sunday after missing three games with a groin injury. Previously the pivot for Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrique was slotted on the third line with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier.

"We're going to play it out here and see how it goes," DeBoer said. "We've got to be careful with him, minutes-wise. We brought him back from the injury, he had a setback, so I don't want another setback, and I don't want it to be long-term. We'll ease him back here and hopefully get him back to full speed, then we'll see where he fits line-wise."

The trio of Parise, Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias has clicked in two full games together. Kovalchuk, named the NHL's Second Star for the week ending Sunday, is riding a streak of three straight three-point games.

Kovalchuk led the entire League with 20 points (10g-10a) over the last month (13 games, Jan. 6-Feb. 5). Elias was tied for fifth (5g-12a-17pts), while Parise was tied for eighth (7g-8a-15pts).

With a goal and an assist against Pittsburgh, Parise (387) moved ahead of Jamie Langenbrunner (385) into sole possession of 10th place on the Devils' all-time points list. Parise (185) needs two goals to match Kirk Muller for fourth-most in club history.

"You don't want to mess with winning formulas and right now, we're having some success," DeBoer said. "On the other side, I thought Henrique, Ponikarovsky and Bernier had a great game [Sunday] as a threesome. Line matchups are always subject to change depending on how the team's doing and how the game's going."

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