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'Second season' begins Wednesday

by Brian Compton

Zach Parise and Patrik Elias celebrate the fact that the New Jersey Devils will have home-ice advantage in their opening-round playoff series with the New York Rangers.
Highlights of the Devils' 3-2 SO victory
With playoff positioning on the line, the New Jersey Devils knew a regulation loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday would mean they’d have to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden, rather than the friendly confines of the Prudential Center.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche had a lot on the line on Sunday as well. With a win over Pittsburgh, the Flyers could jump into the sixth seed in the East and avoid a first-round matchup against the powerhouse Penguins. Colorado could also land the No. 6 seed with a victory over the Minnesota Wild.
All three got the job done.
The Devils reached overtime and eventually won on a shootout goal by Patrik Elias. The Flyers beat the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins in a tight 2-0 battle at the Wachovia Center, while the Avs jumped over the Calgary Flames in the standings with 4-3 shootout win over the Wild in what ultimately turned out to be a playoff preview. Minnesota, which won the Northwest Division to claim the No. 3 seed, will host Colorado in Game 1 on Wednesday night. 
Perhaps the biggest win of the afternoon went to New Jersey, which hadn’t beaten its cross-river rival all season long. The Devils were 0-4-3 this season against the Rangers – the team they will face in a best-of-seven beginning Wednesday night – before finally coming away with a win on the final day.
New Jersey surrendered an early 2-0 lead before bouncing back in time to win the shootout.
''It was important to get home ice, but it was just as important to get the win, if not just for our own psyche,'' Devils forward Jay Pandolfo said. ''They beat us seven times and to find a way to get a win against them is huge. They've all been tight games and I think it's going to continue that way in the playoffs.''

With their win over the Penguins, the Flyers have a first-round date with the scorching-hot Washington Capitals, who won their last seven games of the regular season to capture the Southeast Division title. Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron made 20 saves on Sunday for his second straight shutout. The Flyers will visit the Verizon Center for the series opener on Friday night.
"You want to get rolling at the right time of the season," Biron said. "This is the key part of the year. We have to welcome the challenge the same way we did the last two games."
Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien opted to keep Crosby out of the lineup rather than risk injury. Crosby missed 28 games this season due to a sprained right ankle. With a victory, the Penguins would have claimed the No. 1 seed in the East. Instead, they’ll face the No. 7 Ottawa Senators in a first-round rematch from 2007. The teams will meet on Wednesday at Mellon Arena.
The Montreal Canadiens finished atop the Eastern Conference with 104 points. They will face the Boston Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs after sweeping Claude Julien’s club during the regular season. Game 1 is slated for Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
"It would have been nice to win the conference, but we are not going to risk everything to win the conference," Therrien said.

The Colorado Avalanche locked up the No. 6 seed with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon.

In the Western Conference, the No. 6 and 7 seeds were the only ones still undetermined heading into Sunday’s action. But the Avs – behind three assists from Peter Forsberg and 34 saves from Jose Theodore – took care of business in Minnesota and assured themselves of a return visit to the Xcel Energy Center, where the teams will begin their best-of-seven series.
"It's great," said Forsberg, who had one goal and 13 assists in nine games. "I ended up on a good note and we got the win. Now the fun starts."
Colorado’s win on Sunday dropped the Calgary Flames into seventh place, meaning Mike Keenan’s club will face the No. 2 San Jose Sharks (49-23-10) in the first round. The Sharks lost only two games in regulation following the acquisition of All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 26. Those defeats came in San Jose’s final two games of the regular season. The Sharks will host Calgary on Wednesday at HP Pavilion.
The Detroit Red Wings – who won the Presidents’ Trophy with 54 wins and 115 points – will face the No. 8 Nashville Predators in the opening round. Game 1 is slated for Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings closed out the regular season with Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Nicklas Lidstrom scored twice in the victory.
"It's helps that the travel isn't too far. It helps our team not to have those long flights out to the west coast right away," said Lidstrom, referring to last year when Detroit battled Calgary, San Jose and Anaheim in the postseason. "We've seen them a lot. We know their tendencies and I think we know what they're good at, too."
The 4-5 matchup in the West pits the defending champion Ducks against the Dallas Stars. Anaheim has been a different club since the returns of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne from retirement, while Dallas ended the season with just four wins in its last 14 games (4-8-2) to fall out of the Pacific Division race. Game 1 is slated for Thursday night at the Honda Center.

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