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Devils rout Islanders, clinch Atlantic

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK , N.J. -- It has come down to this -- the New Jersey Devils need one point to lock up their highest seed heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three seasons.

That was made possible Saturday when New Jersey received goals from six different players, including a pair by Patrik Elias, and Travis Zajac added three assists en route to a 7-1 victory over the New York Islanders before 17,625 at PrudentialCenter. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who has allowed just six goals in his last six games, earned his League-leading 44th victory of the season by making 18 saves.

With the Penguins' 1-0 loss in Atlanta, the Devils wrapped up their ninth Atlantic Division title.

"It feels nice, it feels great," said Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was traded to the Devils from Atlanta in February. "Atlanta did help us out a bit."

The Devils, who also wrapped up their second straight 100-point campaign (47-27-7, 101 points), will host the Buffalo Sabres in the regular-season finale for both teams on Sunday. A win or an overtime loss would assure them the second seed in the East. The Sabres have to have a regulation victory to pass the Devils, who own the tiebreaker because they have more victories.

"It's important to get that second seed because it gives you the opportunity, if you do advance past the first round, to be home again," Brodeur said. "It's always important to have as many games possible in your own building in the playoffs. You play all year to position yourself and now it's available to us with a win versus Buffalo."

The last time New Jersey entered the postseason with a seed higher than third was during the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were seeded second but were beaten in five games by the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

They're anticipating a better outcome this year

"I think we're probably playing our best hockey lately, so it's good," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said.

The Islanders broke Brodeur's shutout bid on a power-play goal with 6:50 remaining in the third when Matt Moulson swatted John Tavares' airborne pass into the net, ending a string of six straight goals by the Devils.

New York, which finishes its season Sunday with a home game against Pittsburgh, has allowed seven goals in back-to-back losses to the Penguins and Devils. Though Biron struggled all night while facing 37 shots, coach Scott Gordon said he didn't consider replacing him with Dwayne Roloson.

"I had already decided Rollie would play tomorrow," Gordon said, "and I wanted him ready to play."

The Devils opened a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals by Dainius Zubrus, Parise and Dean McAmmond against a shaky Martin Biron, who struggled all night and got little help from his teammates.

Zubrus opened the scoring at 10:54 on a wide-angle rip that deflected off Biron's shoulder and into the net. Zubrus took his shot from deep in the right circle with Biron scrambling to return to the crease after stopping an initial attempt by defenseman Paul Martin. Parise was crashing the slot at the time, forcing Isles defender Bruno Gervais into Biron.

Parise then connected off a picturesque rebound at 14:18 when he backhanded a shot just beyond the outstretched left pad of Biron while on his knees in the slot. Parise stood his ground in front of Biron while Colin White teed up a slap shot from the left point.

Lemaire opened the game with Zubrus centering for Parise and Zajac and Elias centering for Kovalchuk and Jamie Langenbrunner. By the second period, however, Zubrus was playing between Parise and Elias.

"I'm getting closer to figuring out (the line combinations)," Lemaire said with a grin. "I tried (Rod) Pelley with (Brian) Rolston and McAmmond and I like what they did. (Rob) Niedermayer was also there with (David) Clarkson and (Pierre-Luc) Leblond and they played good, too.

"This is something that you're looking at for the future," Lemaire continued. "It's not bad to have guys play with different partners; I really believe when you're with a line all the time, sometimes you wait for others do to their job. I like Jamie (Langenbrunner) and Rolie (Rolston) with Kovalchuk as well."

McAmmond closed the first-period onslaught on a wide-angle blast from deep in the left circle that Biron misplayed.

The home team extended the lead to 5-0 on a pair of power-play goals in the second. Elias ripped home a shot from the right point that deflected off an Islander and went past Biron at 11:16. Brian Rolston got his first goal in seven games and 20th of the season when his blast from the top of the right circle beat Biron high to the long side at 19:11.

Kovalchuk set up both goals, then got one of his own at 8:47 of the third when he set up in the slot and deflected Andy Greene's point shot behind Biron.

After Moulson got his team-high 29th of the season, Elias closed out the scoring with just 1:36 remaining when his backhander from deep in the right circle hit defenseman Andrew MacDonald and found an opening between the post and Biron's left skate.

"It's nice for us to get a lot of scoring from different players -- all the lines played well and generated offense," Parise said. "Everyone knows that if you want to get far in the playoffs, that's what you need."

The Devils, who finished 2-for-5 on the power-play, have gone 3-for-19 with the man advantage over their last seven games. Meanwhile, the penalty-killing unit, tops in the League since the Olympic break (at 93-percent efficiency) has killed 10 of 11 over their last six matches.

"I thought our power-play was good the whole game," said Kovalchuk, who played the point and, at times, was even stationed in the slot with the man advantage. "We moved the puck really well and got chances."

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