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Isles, Devils play rubber match in week-long series

by Pete Jensen
DEVILS (38-24-5) at ISLANDERS (28-30-9)


Last 10:
New Jersey 5-4-1; New York 4-5-1

Season Series:
Saturday marks the fifth of six meetings between these Atlantic Division foes. The teams have split their four meetings this season, three of which have been decided by one goal. This clash marks the third consecutive game the Islanders will play against the Devils, as New York claimed a 1-0 win at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday before falling victim to Ilya Kovalchuk's hat trick in a 5-1 setback at Prudential Center on Thursday.

Big Story: The final chapter of the trilogy is set for Saturday on Long Island as the Devils and Islanders suit up against each other for the third time in seven days. After a stretch of five losses in six games, the Devils have bounced back by earning convincing wins over both of their Metropolitan area rivals this week. The Isles, meanwhile, fell seven points out of the final playoff spot in the East after having their two-game win streak snapped Thursday in Newark.

Team Scope:

New Jersey is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture after two crucial victories over divisional opponents. The Devils are currently in sole possession of sixth place in the East, only two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for fifth. The Devils' offense has been a major reason for their recent spurt, outscoring the New York Rangers and Islanders by a 9-2 margin in their two wins this week. New Jersey has showcased its scoring depth in recent games, but Kovalchuk has especially taken the initiative, accumulating 4 goals and 3 assists over his last five.

"I've noticed [Kovalchuk] has been shooting more the last couple of games, which is great," Zach Parise told The (Bergen) Record. "We all want him to have that scoring confidence. We all know how dangerous he is when he gets hot."

Time is running out on the Islanders' chances of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since the 2006-07 season. New York dropped to 14th place in the East after its lopsided defeat at the hands of the Devils. The Isles trimmed their deficit to 2-1 Thursday after Andrew MacDonald lifted the puck from the corner of the New Jersey zone off Martin Brodeur's back for a goal late in the second period. But that wasn't nearly enough as New Jersey scored three times on Evgeni Nabokov in the final 20 minutes to put the game away.

"Our chances are dwindling here, and every game we lose, we're that much closer to being out of it," MacDonald told Newsday. "We can't afford to be losing games like this."

Who's Hot:
Patrik Elias, who scored in Thursday's win over the Isles, has matched Kovalchuk over their last five games with 4 goals and 3 assists in that span. … Josh Bailey has compiled 4 goals and 1 assist for New York over his last five games.

Injury Report:
Michael Grabner and Dylan Reese are questionable for New York due to flu-like symptoms. The Isles will be without goaltenders Al Montoya (upper body) and Rick DiPietro (sports hernia surgery). … Travis Zajac (Achilles) and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot) remain out of the lineup for New Jersey.

Stat Pack:
In his seventh game since being traded from the Minnesota Wild to New Jersey on Feb. 24, Marek Zidlicky finally got on the board. He assisted on goals scored by Kovalchuk and David Clarkson on Thursday to register his first two points in a Devils' sweater.

Puck Drop:
"It's nice on the coaches because of prep time, we get a bit of a break that way," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer told regarding the familiarity between the Devils and Isles. "We're not starting from scratch and studying a new opponent. The prep will be easier, but it's another big game. You know they're going to bounce back. They're at home and they played a great game there the last time we were there."

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