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Brodeur, Devils' defense rounding into form

by John Manasso
New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur keeps piling up the records, but following his 3-0 shutout of the Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday, Brodeur was less interested in talking about quantity than he was quality.
"The big one was 552, now everything else is gravy," Brodeur said of earning his 600th career victory and that passing Patrick Roy for the all-time record last season was most meaningful for him.
With three games remaining, the Devils' magic number to clinch the Atlantic Division title is five points -- any combination of that number of points by the Devils or lost points by second-place Pittsburgh will clinch it for New Jersey.
And as the Devils hone in on the division title, they appear to be playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Brodeur shut out Carolina 4-0 in his previous outing Saturday. His shutout streak stands at 120 minutes 26 seconds, as Chicago scored on him with 26 seconds left in regulation in Friday's 2-1 shootout loss.
That means he has allowed only one goal in his last 185 minutes.

"We still got three games to go. As a team and myself, we're finally playing the hockey we feel we should be playing all the time. Shutouts are shutouts. It's how you win games." -- Martin Brodeur

"We still got three games to go," Brodeur said. "As a team and myself, we're finally playing the hockey we feel we should be playing all the time. Shutouts are shutouts. It's how you win games.
"Even though we played two teams that weren't on top of the standings, Carolina and Atlanta, they're still teams that are tough to play, especially for us. Definitely, we're happy about the results. We just have to keep building up. We have three more games that will be practices for when what really counts starts."
Against Atlanta, a dangerous offensive team if opponents let the Thrashers be, the Devils allowed few scoring opportunities. That Devils' defensive performance -- they limited a Thrashers team that needed a win to stay alive in the playoff race to two shots in the third period -- earned positive marks from coach Jacques Lemaire.
"Especially our defense," Lemaire answered when asked if the team is playing as well as it has in a while. "All the defensemen really played well, moved the puck well, they stopped the opponent, stopped the rushes. This is a team [Atlanta] that puts pucks at the net, drives the net. I thought we did a tremendous job there."
Those defenseman that Lemaire praised include veteran Paul Martin, who was a hopeful for the U.S. Olympic team, but could not play because of an arm injury that has limited him this season.

Martin has played in only 19 games this season, but he appears to be rounding into form. He is plus-6 in 19 games with 2 goals and 5 assists.
"Playoff hockey is about not giving up too many opportunities and when we do, Marty's making the saves and we're clearing the pucks," said Martin, who on Tuesday was plus-2 with an assist in 19:39, third among the team's defensemen. "It's important that we focus on that, especially down the stretch."
Lemaire said if anything was lacking, it's that the Devils' third and fourth lines can improve their play. To his point, Atlanta's fourth line of Marty Reasoner, Evgeny Artyukhin and Chris Thorburn was probably its best against New Jersey.
Lemaire praised the play of the Devils' top two lines. That would include the trio of Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner, who did not score on Tuesday.
While Lemaire said he didn't think that finishing second or fourth in the Eastern Conference did not matter much, believing that after Washington the next seven playoff qualifiers all will be at about the same level, Kovalchuk is hoping for that second spot.
"I think we're a pretty competitive team here and we want to finish second," said Kovalchuk, who will be 27 when the playoffs begin -- only his second career postseason opportunity in eight seasons. "Because when you win on a pretty consistent basis, it gives you a lot of confidence, so that's how we want to go to the playoffs."
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