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New faces abound as Rangers, Devils face off

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (36-18-2) at RANGERS (25-26-7)

Last 10: New Jersey 4-5-1; New York 3-7-0

Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings this season between Atlantic Division rivals. The road team has won each of the first three matchups, with the Devils prevailing twice. The most recent game was a 1-0 thriller at Madison Square Garden in which both Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist recorded shutouts through 65 minutes. Patrik Elias finally put a puck in the net in the fourth round of the shootout, winning it for New Jersey.

Big Story:
Even a rivalry as heated as Devils-Rangers can use some fresh life breathed into it every so often, and that's exactly what has happened with each team making a big trade in the past week. The Rangers acquired four-time 30-goal scorer Olli Jokinen from the Flames in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, then the Devils pulled the trigger on a mega-deal with the Thrashers for the services of sniper Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Devils: Kovalchuk's first game with New Jersey went from clunker to thriller in a matter of a few minutes late in the third period. The Devils rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Maple Leafs 4-3 on Friday as Dean McAmmond, Travis Zajac and Jay Pandolfo all scored in the final 3:04 of the game. Zajac and Pandolfo scored 25 seconds apart with under a minute remaining. Kovalchuk contributed two assists in his debut, including one on Zajac's game-tying, power-play goal.

"I think the emotion we had was something we haven't shown in a little while, so to come back and win it was great,'' Brodeur said. "It's not the way you want to win games but we'll take it and build on it because you can tell how relieved everyone was in the end.

"It was a tough game because there were high expectations and people were looking at Kovy all night. We were looking at him, too. It's just nice to pull it off at the end."

Rangers: A change in personnel hasn't changed New York's recent fortunes just yet, as the Rangers have dropped both games since Jokinen and Brandon Prust joined the lineup. On the bright side, their offense came alive Thursday against the Capitals, with Jokinen recording a goal and an assist and Vinny Prospal putting together a four-point night. But they still lost a 6-5 scorefest, surrendering three power-play goals to Washington.

"We plug one hole and a couple of others spring up, mainly our discipline," coach John Tortorella said of his team, which was shorthanded nine times on Thursday. "We can't be sitting in the box as much as we did tonight."

Who's Hot:
Zajac has three goals and three assists in the Devils' last four games. … Marian Gaborik has five goals and two assists during a four-game points streak for the Rangers. Prospal has three goals and eight assists in his last 10 games.

Injury Report: New Jersey forward Patrik Elias is skating and close to returning from a concussion suffered last month in Colorado. Defenseman Paul Martin (broken arm) and forward David Clarkson (leg) are unlikely to return until after the Olympic break.

Stat Pack: Dainius Zubrus, who scored the Devils' first goal Friday, centered a line with Kovalchuk and captain Jamie Langenbrunner on his wings. Zubrus once played on a line with Alex Ovechkin in Washington, scoring a career-high 23 goals and 57 points in 2005-06 and 20 goals and 52 points the following season before he was dealt to Buffalo at the trade deadline.
Puck Drop:
Kovalchuk has made an impact at the Garden twice already this season while with Atlanta. He returned from a six-game injury absence to record a goal and two assists in a 5-3 win for the Thrashers on Nov. 12, then added an assist and the decisive shootout goal to beat the Rangers 3-2 on Dec. 14.

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