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GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (35-17-12-6) at New Jersey Devils (35-20-11-2).

TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

This could be the week that determines if the New Jersey Devils can still win their second straight division title and sixth in eight years.

The defending Stanley Cup champions will play the first of two games in five days against the team they're chasing for first place in the Atlantic when they host the Philadelphia Flyers.

These rivals face off for the final time during the regular season on Saturday in Philadelphia, where New Jersey could potentially take over the division lead.

The Devils are five points back, and have a home game against the Western Conference-worst Chicago Blackhawks bridging the meetings with the Flyers. Philadelphia has a much tougher matchup in between, with Thursday's game against Dallas, which is unbeaten in nine straight.

With wins in all three games during that span and a Flyers loss Thursday, New Jersey would be a point ahead of Philadelphia. If the opposite happens, the Devils would be 11 points back with 11 games to play.

The Devils, who finished a point ahead of the Flyers for last season's division crown, are looking to win this season series for the sixth time in seven years. Philadelphia has won just eight of the last 34 regular-season meetings (8-19-7), including a 1-2-1 mark this season.

Both teams have been inconsistent lately, with the Flyers going 4-5-1-1 over the last three weeks and the Devils at 7-7-1-1 during the past month.

Martin Brodeur made 25 saves as New Jersey beat Carolina 4-1 on Saturday, closing its five-game road trip at 2-2-0-1.

"It's definitely a good road game," Brodeur said. "The stage that we're at I think we're going to take a performance like that before going home."

Though Patrik Elias had a goal Saturday, he should be very happy to get back to New Jersey. He had nine points during a three-game homestand before the road trip, and has totaled 40 points in 34 games at Continental Airlines Arena this season compared to 23 in 34 road games.

The Flyers have a new defenseman on their roster to try to stop Elias and the Devils.

Philadelphia acquired Vladimir Malakhov from the New York Rangers on Monday for prospect Rick Kozak and a draft pick. The Flyers also dealt defenseman Chris Therien, who had spent his entire 10-year career with Philadelphia, to Dallas for two draft picks.

"Malakhov is much better with the puck and a better skater (than Therien)," Flyers general manager Bob Clarke said. "He can do things for the team that Chris couldn't."

Philadelphia also might welcome captain Keith Primeau back to the lineup. The veteran center, sidelined since Feb. 12 due to a concussion, could help a penalty-killing unit that has slipped to 20th in the NHL.

"It would be awesome to get him back," winger Mark Recchi said. "Obviously he's one of our top penalty killers. Our penalty killing has to get a lot better."

STANDINGS: Flyers - 88 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Devils - 83 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Recchi, 25 goals, 40 assists and 65 points; Donald Brashear, 183 PIM. Devils - Elias, 31 goals and 63 points; Scott Gomez, 44 assists; Colin White, 81 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 7): Flyers - Power play: 23.6 percent (61 for 259), 1st in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (249 for 299), 21st. Devils - Power play: 15.7 percent (40 for 254), 19th. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (197 for 232), 7th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Robert Esche (18-7-5, 2 SO, 1.95 GAA); Sean Burke (14-20-6, 1, 2.85). Devils - Brodeur (32-21-10, 10, 2.04); Scott Clemmensen (1-1-0, 1, 1.53).

SEASON SERIES: Devils, 2-1-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 10; Flyers, 4-1. At Philadelphia, rookie Antero Niittymaki stopped 35 shots for his third win in as many starts and Simon Gagne had a goal and an assist.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 13-10-10-3 on the road; Devils - 18-11-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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