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Devils' Zajac: Stadium Series should bring playoff feel

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- When the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers face off at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 26 as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, fans can expect a playoff-like atmosphere on a grand scale.

At least that's how Devils forward Travis Zajac would prefer to label the matchup scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC).

"These are playoff games every time we play against each other and no matter where the game might be," Zajac told "Especially now since we only play them five times a year. They're special games and we're both battling right now to make the playoffs and I assume it'll be that way in January as well."

Travis Zajac expects a playoff-like atmosphere at Yankee Stadium. (Photo: Andy Marlin/NHLI)

Zajac acknowledged how much he's looking forward to playing outdoors in the Bronx.

"It's going to be amazing," he said. "We've watched the games the past few years and we've always talked about being a part of something like that and now to get the chance to play, not only outside, but against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium. It'll be a fun event and I'm definitely going to enjoy it."

The game will actually mark the first time Zajac will skate competitively outdoors since his days growing up in Winnipeg in minus-30 degree temperatures.

"I think I was 10 the last time I skated outside with friends and it was cold," Zajac said. "Hopefully, the game at Yankee Stadium won't be that frigid.

"We used to walk down the street and there was an outdoor rink a couple blocks away. We either got dropped off after school or walked over there when we got home. We'd skate outdoors until it was time to come home for dinner."

Zajac is also looking forward to finally getting an opportunity to see the inside of Yankee Stadium.

"I've been [with the Devils] for eight years and never been to Yankee Stadium," he said. "I'm kind of excited about that. You hear all about it and I love following the Yankees, but I've never been to a game. It'll be nice to see what the inside of the stadium looks like."

While Zajac isn't counted on for scoring in bunches, coach Peter DeBoer knows he can rely on his 28-year-old center to do most everything else.

"Travis has never for me been a player about the numbers," DeBoer said. "It's the intangibles he brings. For the 20 minutes he's on the ice, you're comfortable as a coach that good things are happening. You'll have more opportunities to score than the other team will have. You're going to manage the puck well because he's going to win faceoffs and kill penalties. He's a guy that's easy to play."

In 41 career games against the Rangers, Zajac has 10 goals, 21 points and a plus-5 rating.

What makes the Devils-Rangers rivalry unique in the eyes of DeBoer?

"I think when you live in this community, you realize you have lifelong fans of both teams that grow up, a lot of times, in the same household and that's very rare," DeBoer said. "You don't get that situation unless you have two major teams within a metropolitan area, so I think that's what makes this rivalry unique."

The Rangers and Devils have been separated by two goals or less in 16 of their last 23 meetings. The Rangers are 23-11-3 against the Devils since 2007-08, dating back to a 2-0 win on Oct. 25, 2007. Henrik Lundqvist is 23-11-2 with seven shutouts in 35 games over that span.

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is 48-30-20 with nine shutouts in 98 career games against the Rangers.

"I know Marty really gets fired up for these games [against the Rangers], as he does for all games," DeBoer said. "But there's also great tradition here with the two teams with some of the games they've played and some of the playoff series they've had,"


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