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GAME: New Jersey Devils (42-24-12-2) at Boston Bruins (40-18-15-7).

TIME: Saturday, 1 p.m. EST.

The New Jersey Devils have grown accustomed to playing without their captain.

The Boston Bruins may want to take some lessons.

Boston will be without captain and leading scorer Joe Thornton when it hosts New Jersey in the opener of a home-and-home series that could determine two division titles.

While New Jersey is chasing Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division title, the Bruins can clinch the Northeast Division crown with wins in their final two games. Winning their respective division is the top priority for both teams, but finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference also guarantees home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs.

Devils captain Scott Stevens hasn't played since Jan. 7 due to post-concussion syndrome and his status for the playoffs is unknown. New Jersey struggled at first without Stevens, but has won three straight and four of five to remain within striking distance of first-place Philadelphia.

Boston cost itself a shot at the top seed in the Eastern Conference with Thursday's 3-3 tie against lowly Washington. While failing to beat one of the league's worst teams was disappointing, it wasn't the only bad news for the Bruins, who lost Thornton to an "upper body injury" in the third period.

Thornton was slashed on the right wrist by Todd Rohloff as he crashed the net 3:25 into the third and fell backward, hitting the ice hard. Thornton returned for another shift and assisted on Glen Murray's goal at 5:23, but left a few minutes later and didn't return.

"You don't want to see Joe Thornton crash the net and get up slowly in the third period," Boston's Sergei Samsonov said. "It's unfortunate."

Though the final two games of the season are important to the Bruins, they could choose to rest Thornton in an effort to get him healthy for the postseason opener next week.

Defensemen Nick Boynton and Dan McGillis also had goals Thursday for Boston, which extended an NHL record by playing in its 30th overtime game of the season.

While Stevens' status is still unknown, the Devils are close to getting All-Star defenseman Brian Rafalski back in the lineup. Rafalski, sidelined with a broken right leg since March 9, practiced with the team for the first time Thursday.

"I'll be back for the playoffs for sure, but not this weekend for sure," Rafalski said. "After three weeks off, I have to get back in shape. I was encouraged to finish the whole practice. I felt pretty good. Everything is positive."

The Devils posted their second 5-0 shutout in three games Tuesday, dominating the New York Rangers.

It was the league-leading 11th shutout of the season for Martin Brodeur, who is on the verge of leading New Jersey to its second straight Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

STANDINGS (through April 1): Devils - 98 points, 2nd place, 2 PB, Atlantic Division. Bruins - 102 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Patrik Elias, 37 goals and 78 points; Scott Gomez, 54 assists; Colin White, 94 PIM. Bruins - Murray, 31 goals; Thornton, 50 assists and 73 points; Doug Doull, 132 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 1): Devils - Power play: 16.1 percent (48 for 299), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.2 percent (218 for 256), 6th. Bruins - Power play: 16.0 percent (45 for 282), 17th. Penalty killing: 84.1 percent (269 for 320), 17th.

GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (37-25-11, 11 SO, 2.02 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (3-1-0, 2, 1.01). Bruins - Andrew Raycroft (28-17-9, 3, 2.02); Felix Potvin (12-8-6, 4, 2.50).

SEASON SERIES: Bruins, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 25; Bruins, 5-2. At East Rutherford, N.J., Patrice Bergeron, Samsonov, Murray and Thornton scored third-period goals and Raycroft made 31 saves for Boston.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devils - 20-12-7-1 on the road; Bruins - 18-11-9-2 at home.

Associated Press
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