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The week ahead: March 29

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur entered Monday leading the League with 41 wins, and needs two more to reach 600 for his career.
Eighteenth straight winning season? Check. Thirteenth straight season in the playoffs? Check.

Even with those targets reached, there’s plenty to look for over the final seven games of the Devils’ 2009-10 regular season.

The Atlantic Division title is still up for grabs with Jersey’s Team trailing first-place Pittsburgh by two points with one game in hand. The Devils will play that extra game this week: they host Boston on Tuesday, Chicago on Friday, then head into Carolina on Saturday.

A victory over the Bruins would put them back atop the division with one more win than Pittsburgh. The Penguins complete a four-game homestand with games against Tampa Bay on Wednesday and Atlanta on Saturday. The defending Stanley Cup champs won twice this weekend to snap a three-game losing streak.

The Devils’ two games over the weekend – a 4-2 win at Montreal on Saturday followed by Sunday’s 5-1 defeat in Philadelphia – hinged on the play of their special teams.

A perfect 2-for-2 showing on the power play coupled with a 4-for-4 shutdown on the penalty kill was more than enough to topple the Canadiens. In Philadelphia, however, the power play wasted five opportunities, including four straight in the second period.

Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timmonen scored with the man advantage as the Devils dropped their third in a row when allowing a power-play goal (0-2-1). The good news? New Jersey's reliable PK has 21 kills in its last 23 chances.

On the scoring front, Ilya Kovalchuk simply continues to shine. He had the lone Devils goal in Sunday’s loss, and on Monday was named the NHL's Third Star for the week ending March 28.

Kovalchuk began the week ranked fifth in the League in goals, and riding a four-game points streak (3g-5a). He's on the verge of his sixth straight season with 40-or-more goals, which would be the longest run since Luc Robitaille (eight) and Brett Hull (six). Both of their streaks came to an end with the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

His skills as both a playmaker and finisher have helped reignite Brian Rolston, who’s on a three-game points streak of his own, with a goal and two assists. Both helpers came on Kovalchuk tallies, and Rolston’s empty-net marker at Montreal was the result of an unselfish set-up from Kovalchuk. The goal was Rolston’s 700th NHL point – he had gone scoreless in six games before his recent surge.

Martin Brodeur has cornered the market on career milestones and is steadily closing on yet another. He began the week leading the League with 41 victories, and needs two more to become the first goalie ever to amass 600.

Brodeur has already extended his own NHL record by reaching 40 wins for the eighth time in his Hall of Fame career. He’s well positioned to surpass his 44 wins of 2007-08, when he captured his fourth Vezina Trophy as top goaltender.

Career victory No. 600 could come as early as Friday against the Blackhawks – the same team Brodeur beat to notch his record-setting 552nd win last March.

Boston Sweep Party?
The Devils are 3-0 against the Bruins, and will be seeking their first sweep of the season series since 2005-06 on Tuesday. Boston had a two-point edge on Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East heading into their matchup with Buffalo on Monday. The Bruins have won three of their last four, including a 5-0 whitewash of Calgary on Saturday.

The Devils beat the Bruins, 3-2, at Prudential Center in their last meeting on March 15.

Chi-town Showdown
A little payback will be in order when the Devils host the Blackhawks on Friday. It will be their first encounter with the Central Division leaders since the 'Hawks handed New Jersey a 5-1 loss at United Center on New Year’s Eve. Ex-Devil John Madden will be making his first return to the Rock since signing in Chicago last summer.

Chicago was just swept in a weekend home-and-home series with Columbus, who outscored them 12-5 in the two games.

Travel advisory
Since winning three straight on the road from Jan. 2-12, the Devils have gone 3-12-1 away from Newark. Early in the season, New Jersey was practically unbeatable on the road, establishing an NHL season-high nine-game road winning streak from Oct. 8 to Nov. 12. (San Jose later matched it with a nine-game road surge of their own from Dec. 21 to Feb. 8.)

It's been a different story at the Rock, where the Devils are 6-1-1 in their last eight.

After this week’s two-game homestand, the Devils head south for a six-day, three-game trip with stops in Carolina, Atlanta, and Florida. They host the Islanders and Sabres on the final weekend of the regular season, when the team celebrates Fan Appreciation Weekend.
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