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Devils, Rangers covet points from outdoor game

by Adam Kimelman

NEW YORK -- The players and coaches for the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers had their time on the ice at Yankee Stadium on Saturday as they got ready for their 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

The day was full of fun and not a lot of hard work. Each team practiced for about an hour then spent an hour on the ice skating with family and friends.

As much as their on-ice work Saturday was about drills and fine-tuning systems, it was more of a test run for what the atmosphere was going to be like Sunday. Players figured out what clothing they needed to wear, what the sight lines were like, and whether they would need eye black or not, among other issues.

Dealing with those items Saturday were crucial because Sunday is about more than being part of the first ice hockey game at Yankee Stadium. The two points at stake in the Metropolitan Division standings are crucial for two teams fighting for spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"This is a huge game [Sunday]," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's a four-point game. Two teams that are this close in the standings. And the reality of this, the way things look, one of us might be in the playoffs, one of us might be on the outside looking in.

"So the message to our group [Saturday] was, 'Enjoy the day, let's have fun, enjoy your families here today. And when we get to the hotel tonight it's all business because the game's too important [Sunday].'"

The teams are separated by two points but four places in the standings. The Rangers are second with 57 points; the Devils are sixth with 55. The Devils are one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We only have 30 games left," Devils forward Jaromir Jagr said. "It's not many. And the standings are so tight and any points can make a huge difference, any victories can make a huge difference right now. We played a big game [Friday, a 2-1 win against the Washington Capitals]. We didn't play very well but we found a way to win a hockey game. And [Sunday] we have to make sure we play a lot better than we played [Friday] and hopefully win the hockey game. That would help us a lot."

The Rangers also would like to have some help separating themselves from a crowded pack in the division; they're one point ahead of the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers.

"[Saturday] we can enjoy the atmosphere and have friends and family here and take it all in," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "[Sunday] it's an important game for us. It's more about staying focused and taking care of business."

However, there is fun to be had. There's going to be a sold-out crowd of more than 50,000 at Yankee Stadium and all the elements that come with playing a regular-season outdoor game.

"I think in an 82-game schedule, having these two games, the one [Sunday] and the one Wednesday [against the New York Islanders], is real good for our group," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "... What you'll see on the ice [Sunday] is a real good hockey game. Both teams having the opportunity to play outside, play in front of great fans, is going to be real exciting. It's a great time in the schedule. Eighty-two games sometimes can be a bit challenging. This is a different atmosphere, a different environment.

"There'll probably be a heightened sense of awareness and a little bit more excitement out there, and it should be pleasant. Lot of fun for everybody."

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will start Sunday, said regardless of the setting, hockey is fun, and he plans on enjoying every second he's on the ice. Part of that fun is the two points that are at stake.

"At the end of the day we're just playing hockey," he said. "It's fun, it's great. We're not here to really put a big show on. We just want to play good, solid hockey and get two points out of this. We're in a tight race with a lot of teams in our division, in our conference, so these points are really valuable. But you have to take time to enjoy it. You have to look up once in a while and see where you're at. Take it in. I know it's going to be my last one probably. Lot of the players here ... it might be their last one outdoors. They've got to take everything in."


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