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Devils look to make up ground on first-place Penguins

by Dan Rosen
PENGUINS (40-22-5) at DEVILS (39-23-3)

Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 5-1-4; New Jersey 4-5-1

Season series -- The Devils have owned Pittsburgh this season. They are 4-0 in the season series and have outscored the Penguins by a combined 14-2. Martin Brodeur has shutouts in the last two meetings, including the one that gave him the NHL's all-time record for career shutouts. The teams haven't played since Dec. 30.

Big story -- A four-point swing is on the line at Prudential Center Friday night. The Penguins own a four-point lead over the Devils for first place in the Atlantic Division after losing in overtime Thursday night in Carolina. Pittsburgh is 4-0-1 since the Olympic break. The Devils got back into the groove with a 6-3 win over the Rangers Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Penguins --
They blew an early 2-0 lead in Carolina but still managed to get to overtime. However, Hurricanes defenseman Brian Pothier scored 23 seconds into the extra session. Pittsburgh outshot Carolina, 40-21.

Brent Johnson got the start in net, so it's expected Marc-Andre Fleury will start in Jersey. Fleury hasn't played since Sunday's 2-1 win over Boston, when he made 21 saves. He had yielded seven goals in his first two outings since the Olympics, and was pulled halfway through his first game back against the Rangers last Thursday.

It'll be interesting to see how Sidney Crosby, and really the Penguins as a whole, rebound in the faceoff circle after a bad night in Carolina. Crosby was 7-for-19, which was only part of the greater problem as the Penguins won only 24 of 62 draws.

Devils --
After a poor effort in a 2-0 loss to Edmonton Sunday night, the Devils returned home for the first time since the Olympic break and started off their five-game stretch in the tri-state area with a solid victory. They got goals from six different players and three different lines to beat the Rangers and chase Henrik Lundqvist from the net in the process. Ilya Kovalchuk amazingly did not factor into any of the goals.

After playing Friday against the Penguins, the Devils go to Long Island for a game Saturday night against the Islanders before returning home for two more, first against Boston on Monday and then against these same Penguins on Wednesday. They have a good chance here to make their move up the standings with six of their next eight games at home while the Penguins are on a five-game road trip.

Who's hot --
Zach Parise has shown no Olympic hangover with three goals in four games. Rob Niedermayer played arguably his best game as a Devil against New York with a goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating in more than 18 minutes. … Jordan Staal has scored a goal in three of the last four games and has six points over the span. He's one goal away from a second straight 20-goal season.

Injury report --
Devils defenseman Paul Martin (forearm) has been out since Oct. 24, the first time the Devils and Penguins played, but believes he could be only a week away from returning. … Penguins right wing Eric Godard (groin) has been out of the lineup since Jan. 25.

Stat pack --
In their four meetings this season, the Devils have outscored the Penguins by 12 goals, but they have been outshot by a 126-114 margin. Ironically, Niclas Bergfors had goals for the Devils in each of the meetings, but he's now playing in Atlanta.

Puck drop --
"I think there is no better team to beat than those guys, especially at the end of the year. We needed a boost and a jump and hopefully that was it." -- Devils right wing David Clarkson after the Devils beat the Rangers on Wednesday to snap a two-game losing streak.

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