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Big game for Brodeur, Kovy as Devils meet Thrashers

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (45-26-7) at THRASHERS (34-32-13)

Last 10: New Jersey 4-2-4; Atlanta 5-3-2

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Devils have won two of three, including the only previous matchup at Philips Arena, 5-4 on Dec. 19. Yann Danis won that game in relief of Martin Brodeur, who came back with a 3-2 win in the most recent meeting on Dec. 28. Zach Parise leads New Jersey with three goals. Rich Peverley leads Atlanta with two goals.

Big story: Brodeur is looking for his 600th career victory. Also, Ilya Kovalchuk makes his return to Atlanta, but the Thrashers don't have time to get caught up in all the hype surrounding their former sniper coming back to town. This is one of only three regular-season games they have remaining and they're three points out of an Eastern Conference playoff berth, so a win -- be it in regulation, overtime or the shootout -- is an absolute necessity.

Team Scope:

Devils: Even though New Jersey has secured its spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the final four games still hold some importance for the Devils. They begin play Tuesday in a virtual tie with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins, and if it stays that way they would win the Atlantic Division by virtue of having swept the season series. Brodeur picked up his eighth shutout of the season, tying him with Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix for the League lead, in a 4-0 win in Carolina on Saturday.

"I felt good," Brodeur said. "Jacques (Lemaire) asked me before the game how I felt and I told him. The schedule's been pretty good, we've been playing at home a lot, and travel hasn't been too bad. Especially with the days I got off at the Olympics, I'm feeling pretty good right now."

There have been several instances in the past couple weeks where Atlanta has had an opportunity to tie for eighth only to come up short. Most recently, the Thrashers held a one-goal lead late in the third period at Pittsburgh on Saturday. They took a penalty, gave up the tying power-play goal by Sergei Gonchar and lost 4-3 in overtime when Jordan Leopold threw the puck on net from the right-wing boards and it found its way past Johan Hedberg.

"We had two points and we found a way to squander that," defenseman Ron Hainsey said.

Who's hot: Brodeur has only given up two goals total in his last three starts for the Devils, but has just a 1-0-2 record to show for it. Kovalchuk has four goals and seven assists in his last seven games. … Tim Stapleton has scored in consecutive games for the Thrashers. Nik Antropov has two goals and two assists in his last four games. Maxim Afinogenov has two goals and an assist in his last three games.

Injury report:
New Jersey forward Andrew Peters (eye) is out indefinitely. … Atlanta forward Colby Armstrong is finishing up a two-game suspension. Defenseman Pavel Kubina (upper body) and forwards Evgeny Artyukhin (upper body) and Bryan Little (lower body) are day-to-day. Forwards Vyacheslav Kozlov (head) and Todd White (upper body) are out indefinitely. Defenseman Christoph Schubert is out with a strained hip. Defenseman Boris Valabik is out for the season following left knee surgery.

Stat pack:
The shutout on Saturday was the 109th of Brodeur's career and his second this season against the Hurricanes. … The Thrashers had gone nine games without yielding a power-play goal before the Penguins struck for a pair.

Puck drop: "We'll see," Kovalchuk said after Monday's practice about the reception he might get in this game. He was traded after turning down several lucrative contract offers from Atlanta. "I had a great relationship with the fans, and with every single person in that organization. I hope nobody takes it personally."

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