DEVILS (32-12-1) at AVALANCHE (26-15-6)
New Jersey 6-4-0; Colorado 6-4-0
This is the only meeting of the 2009-10 season between these teams. Their last matchup took place in New Jersey on Feb. 26, 2009, and the Devils won 4-0 in a memorable game for Martin Brodeur
. Not only did he record the win and shutout while in pursuit of the records held by Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk, respectively, he did it in his return after missing 50 games and nearly four months due to an elbow injury. Zach Parise
and Travis Zajac
each finished with a goal and two assists.
It's been a seesaw battle for first place in the Northwest, as the Avalanche have been battling the Flames and Canucks for the division lead and a top-three seeding in the Western Conference. This is a much different team than the free-falling squad that lost to the Devils less than 11 months ago. The addition of free agent goalie Craig Anderson and the infusion of rookie talent such as Matt Duchene
, Ryan O'Reilly
and Brandon Yip
has led to a rebound in Colorado much sooner than most people expected.
Brodeur followed up a 51-save shutout performance against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday by allowing four goals on just 19 shots in Phoenix on Thursday. The Devils fell into a hole early, down 2-0 after one period, rallied in the second on goals by Brian Rolston and Zajac, but saw the Coyotes answer again in the third. Daniel Winnik
and Zbynek Michalek scored 76 seconds apart, and Rolston's second of the game wasn't enough as the Devils fell, 4-3.
"I thought we controlled the game," defenseman Mike Mottau told the Newark Star-Ledger. "They capitalized on a few breakdowns."
It's been a nice four-day break for Colorado since a 3-2 shootout win in Calgary on Monday -- the sixth consecutive game in which the Avalanche have defeated the Flames, and the fourth in a row this season by a 3-2 score. In this instance they rallied from an early two-goal deficit on tallies by Paul Stastny
and Chris Stewart. Then, after killing off a brief 5-on-3 in overtime, they prevailed in the penalty-shot tiebreaker on Stewart's goal.
"It's going to be a dog fight all the way until the end," said Anderson, who was brilliant in stopping 44 shots. "There are some great teams in the West, especially within our division. You never know, one point or two points could be the difference at the end of the year."
Rolston has already equaled his goal output of a season ago in 20 fewer games, while Zajac has four goals and three assists in New Jersey's last five games. … Stewart has three goals and an assist in his last four games for Colorado.
Devils defenseman Paul Martin (arm) and forwards Dainius Zubrus
(knee) and David Clarkson
(leg) are all on injured reserve. … For the Avalanche, defenseman Brett Clark is expected to be activated for Saturday's game, while fellow blueliner Adam Foote remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) and forwards Marek Svatos (groin) and David Jones
(torn ACL) remain on injured reserve.
New Jersey hasn't dropped back-to-back games since an 0-2-1 stretch from Nov. 16-21 and hasn't gone consecutive games without earning at least a point since losing its first two games of the season.
The Avalanche are well aware of what their game plan needs to be in order to pick up two points at the expense of Brodeur and the Devils.
"I don't think there's really any recipe to beat him other than put the rubber on him," said defenseman Scott Hannan. "If we keep throwing the puck at him, get a few bounces and get traffic in front of him we'll be alright."