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Road to Stanley Cup starts tonight

by Adam Schwartz

Jaromir Jagr and the New York Rangers won seven out of eight regular season meetings over Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. Will that success carrry over into the postseason?
Game 1 takes place tonight in Newark at the Prudential Center
The NHL playoffs start Wednesday night with two Eastern Conference and two Western Conference series opening.

At 7 p.m., the Ottawa Senators visit the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils face the New York Rangers. Later, the Colorado Avalanche battle the Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks host the Calgary Flames.

Here’s what to watch:

* After sitting atop the Eastern Conference earlier this season, the Senators slipped all the way to No. 7, where they will play the second-seeded Penguins. Ottawa, which ended the season with six losses in its last eight games, scored the second-most goals in the League with 261.

* Ottawa left wing Dany Heatley, who led the Northeast Division with 41 goals, scored in just one of his last five regular-season games.

* Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who missed 15 games with a broken finger, was second in the League with 209 blocked shots. He also was second among defensemen on the team with a plus-14 rating.

* Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who went to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final with the Washington Capitals, led Eastern Conference defensemen with 65 points. Gonchar, whose hockey idols growing up were Paul Coffey and Viacheslav Fetisov, led the team with an average of 25:54 of ice time per game.

* Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik, who led Atlantic Division defenseman with 239 hits, was one of six Penguins defensemen to block at least 100 shots this season – the others were Hal Gill, Sergei Gonchar, Ray Whitney, Rob Scuderi and Darryl Sydor.

* The Devils, who allowed the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference with 197, scored the second-fewest goals in the conference, with 206. New Jersey, which has made the playoffs 11 straight seasons, is tied with Ottawa for the longest current streak of qualifying for the playoffs.

* New Jersey right wing Brian Gionta, who set the franchise single-season record with 48 goals in 2006, scored just one goal in his last seven games. Gionta, whose parents own a hardware store in Greece, N.Y., has scored at least 20 goals in four consecutive seasons.

* The Rangers, who had the best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference with an 84.6-percent success rate, were tied with the St. Louis Blues for the most overtime losses in the League with 13. The Rangers, who had a 17-14-10 record away from Madison Square Garden, lost three of their last four road games. They’ll play the first two games of the series at the Devils’ Prudential Center.

* Colorado left wing Ryan Smyth, who has scored at least 20 goals eight times in his career, didn’t score in his last 10 regular-season games. Smyth, who was limited to just 55 games in the regular season due to various injuries, has a minus-11 rating in 73 career playoff games.

* Rangers center Chris Drury, who has a knack for scoring important goals, has a plus-26 rating in 114 career playoff games. Drury, who was tied for the team lead with 25 goals, had two goals and five assists for seven points in his last six regular-season games.

* Avalanche defenseman Jeff Finger, selected No. 240 in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, had a plus-4 rating in his last six regular-season games while playing at least 20 minutes per game. Finger, 28, played his first full NHL season in 2007-08.

* Minnesota right wing Marian Gaborik, who has played in all 23 of the franchise’s playoff games, has three goals in his last four playoff games. Gaborik, whose favorite foods are sushi and steak, scored a career-high 42 goals this season.

* Calgary left wing Kristian Huselius, who also played for coach Mike Keenan when both were with the Florida Panthers, scored just one goal in his last nine games. Huselius, who was second on the team with 66 points, has never been past the first round of the playoffs.

* Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr, who averaged 21:20 of ice time per game in the regular season, has a plus-9 rating in 34 playoff games, including a plus-7 rating in Calgary’s 26-game run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

* San Jose center Joe Thornton has three goals and 15 assists for 18 points in 19 career games against the Flames. Thornton led the team with 96 points – 34 more than any other Sharks player.

* Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who played 77 games in the regular season, was two victories shy of tying Martin Brodeur’s single-season record of 48 victories. Nabokov, who was second in the League with 4,560 minutes played, led the Western Conference with 95 shorthanded shots against.

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