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Flyers-Devils Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (43-24-11) at New Jersey Devils (43-27-9).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The New Jersey Devils look to tie a season high with their ninth straight win and move into a fifth-place tie with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference when the teams meet at Continental Airlines Arena.

New Jersey clinched its ninth consecutive playoff berth with a 4-3 overtime win over Carolina on Tuesday night to remain two points behind the Flyers going into Thursday's contest.

The Devils and Flyers meet again Sunday in the second-to-last game of the season for the Atlantic Division rivals.

In addition to trying to hold off the Devils, the Flyers are focused on trying to catch the division-leading Rangers, and those teams meet Saturday afternoon at the Wachovia Center. Philadelphia, three points behind New York, must win its final four games and beat the Rangers in regulation to win the Atlantic and secure the third seed in the playoffs. The Rangers have only three games left.

While the Flyers have a crucial game the day before Sunday's matchup with the Devils, New Jersey will have had two days off to prepare to face Philadelphia again.

The Devils, who won nine in a row from Jan. 3-21, moved within a victory of matching that streak by beating Carolina on Tuesday night. Brian Gionta scored a power-play goal 28 seconds into the extra period to lift New Jersey.

"I tell you what, if there is any team we've had that deserves to get into the playoffs, and we've had some great ones, (it's) this team," Devils coach Lou Lamoriello said.

Gionta's 45th goal moved him within one of Pat Verbeek's franchise-record total, set in 1987-88, and extended his point streak to 12 games. Gionta has nine goals and eight assists in that span.

Martin Brodeur made 37 saves to become the first goaltender in NHL history to win 40 games in five seasons. Brodeur has compiled a 2.10 goals-against average in starting every game during the Devils' winning streak.

Brodeur is 27-19-0 with six ties and a 2.45 GAA against the Flyers in his career.

Philadelphia is 7-3-1 in its last 11 games and is coming off a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Jeff Carter scored the game-winner on the power play at 13:28 of the third and Joni Pitkanen had a goal and an assist for the Flyers, who led 3-1 entering the final period before the Penguins rallied to tie.

"It's a big win for us because we have a chance to win the division," Pitkanen said. "We've had a tough time at home. Maybe we feel a little more pressure."

Flyers center Peter Forsberg sat out for the third straight game with a nagging groin injury. Forsberg skated with the team Wednesday and said he would be a game-time decision Thursday. He has 74 points, including a team-high 55 assists.

"We're not going to put him in unless he's 100 percent," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If he's 100 percent after today, we'll probably let him go at it. But if he's not, then we will wait until Saturday."

The Devils are 24-8-0 with four ties against the Flyers at home since the beginning of the 1991-92 season.

STANDINGS: Flyers - 97 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Atlantic Division. Devils - 95 points, 3rd place, 5 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Simon Gagne, 45 goals and 77 points; Forsberg, 55 assists; Donald Brashear, 152 PIM. Devils - Gionta, 45 goals and 81 points; Scott Gomez, 47 assists; Jason Wiemer, 94 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 18.1 percent (78 for 432), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.7 percent (351 for 446), 27th. Devils - Power play: 17.9 percent (76 for 425), 18th. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (278 for 340), 18th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Robert Esche (21-9-5, 1 SO, 2.94 GAA); Antero Niittymaki (22-15-6, 2, 3.01). Devils - Brodeur (40-23-7, 5, 2.61); Scott Clemmensen (3-4-2, 3.35).


LAST MEETING: April 1; Devils, 4-1. At Philadelphia, Brodeur made 33 saves to move into sole possession of fourth place on the career wins list with 438.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 22-11-5 on the road; Devils - 25-11-3 at home.

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