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Devils, Sens aim to stay in thick of playoff race

by David Kalan
DEVILS (21-15-1) at SENATORS (19-15-5)


Last 10: New Jersey 7-3-0; Ottawa 6-3-1.

Season Series: New Jersey leads the season series 1-0, after Adam Henrique notched the decisive tally in a 5-4 shootout win on Dec. 8, 2011 at the Prudential Center.

Big Story: While New Jersey and Ottawa would both be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today, those seats can not be comfy ones. The Devils and Senators both have just a one-point advantage on the ninth-place Washington Capitals, and would love to put some distance between them and some April golf outings.
Team Scope:

Devils: At first glance New Jersey's fourth-place spot in the Atlantic Division might seem unimpressive, but the Devils are just three points behind the third-place Penguins with a game in hand. That margin shrunk in the Devils' last game, a 3-1 win over the Penguins on New Year's Eve in New Jersey, and considering how the Devils have played lately, it wasn't very surprising. The Devils have won seven of their last nine games, lifting them from outside the East's top eight to sixth in the conference.

A better sign for New Jersey than simply winning, however, might be that just two of those seven wins came after regulation. For much of this season the Devils have lived and died by the shootout, but with the first tiebreaker being regulation and overtime wins, reliance on the postgame tiebreaker could come back to haunt New Jersey. More wins before the shootout would be a good sign for a team coming off its first non-playoff season since 1996.

Senators: With this season's All-Star Game being played at Scotiabank Place, it should be no surprise that Ottawa has dominated the event's fan balloting, but the dedication of the Ottawa faithful isn't the only impressive thing coming out of Canada's capital. The Senators have won five of their last seven games, which has kept them in playoff position and second place in the Northeast.

Considering first-place Boston is six points up on Ottawa with an amazing four games in hand, a division title is likely out of reach, but more concerning for the Sens is that a playoff berth is no certainty either. Toronto and Buffalo are both hot on Ottawa's trail, and the Capitals are lurking in the conference standings just one point away from ousting the Sens from the eighth spot.

Who's Hot: Daniel Alfredsson has five points in his last five games for Ottawa. ... Is Martin Brodeur finally starting to find his groove again? The winningest goaltender in League history has won five of his last six starts, while posting a 2.12 goals-against average in that stretch.

Injury Report: Defenseman Anton Volchenkov is doubtful for New Jersey with a lower-body injury. Ottawa may be without defenseman of its own, as Sergei Gonchar is questionable with a head injury.

Stat Pack: New Jersey's first win against Ottawa this season came in the shootout, where the Devils have thrived this season, but their staggering total of shootout wins might be more evidence of catching breaks than skill. Only one team in the East, the conference cellar-dwelling New York Islanders, has fewer regulation or overtime wins than New Jersey.

Puck Drop: As two teams with a far-from-uncertain postseason fate, these will be two crucial points for New Jersey and Ottawa. Whomever can come away with the victory stands to take a significant advantage in the Eastern Conference's cluster of potential playoff teams.
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