Saturday, March 04, 2006

Devils Turn Tables On Rangers, Stop Win Streak At Seven

The last time the Rangers played the Devils, they defeated them at MSG 3-1 on January 22 to snap the Devils' season best nine-game win streak. This time, the roles were reversed before a capacity Continental Airlines Arena where the Blueshirts fell to their Lincoln Tunnel rivals 2-1 Saturday night- stopping their win streak at seven.

Martin Brodeur made 26 saves in outdueling Kevin Weekes to help put New Jersey (32-22-7) within nine points of the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers. With his team ahead 2-1, the Devils netminder stopped all 12 third period shots to become the first goalie in NHL history to post 30 wins in 10 straight seasons.

"It's one of the things I like most about the records that I'm doing," Brodeur said to the AP after the game. "One thing I wanted to be in my career is consistent. That's one thing Patrick Roy was able to do throughout his career and I tried to go the same way. It means you've been healthy and successful."

On the strength of a Brian Gionta power play goal, Brodeur and the Devils checking line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden and Jamie Langenbrunner made the one-goal lead stand up. In particular, the checking line held the NHL's leading scorer Jaromir Jagr in check. With 91 points entering the contest, Jagr came in red hot having posted six consecutive multipoint games (9-6-15). But against an effective shadowing job by Pandolfo, he was held without a point and managed just three shots. Given little room, Jagr was unable to solve the New Jersey D.

Ahead a goal, the Devils opted to sit back and protect the lead in a tight third. The strategy almost backfired on them. Twice, Brodeur was fortunate when attacking Rangers hit two posts 1:32 apart. A target all night, Darius Kasparaitis had Brodeur beaten but his backhand rang off the post with under 11 minutes to play. Shortly after, ex-Devil Petr Sykora's slap shot deflected off the crossbar to keep New Jersey ahead.

"The games are getting tougher and tougher," said Kasparaitis. "We have to respond. We've played well all season and now people expect us to win."

It wasn't the last nerve-racking moment for the Devils. With under three minutes remaining, Michael Nylander came close but Brodeur blockered away the chance and Nylander lost control of a wraparound attempt, which Brodeur covered up. It was the last big chance the Rangers had.

In a fitting conclusion, the Madden line outworked the Jagr unit by pinning them deep. With time running down, the Rangers were able to get one final rush but Brodeur easily sticked out a Nylander shot for the victory.

Early on, the Devils controlled the tempo. Outshooting New York 9-5 in a closely contested first, they took the lead when a streaking Scott Gomez put home a Brian Gionta rebound at the goalmouth with 2:41 to go. It was Gomez' 22nd of the season.

Not even a minute later, Grant Marshall got retribution on Kasparaitis for a borderline hit which knocked him out of their last game. With Kasparaitis playing a puck with his head turned away, Marshall gave the defenseman a right forearm, which drew a roughing minor. Though it was an undisciplined penalty, Marshall's teammates killed it off to take the lead to the locker room.

The Rangers needed just 1:17 to draw even in the second when Martin Rucinsky beat Brodeur on a breakaway. Off a Gomez turnover, Rucinsky took a Sykora feed and broke in on the netminder and put a backhand in, avoiding Brodeur's pokecheck.

But in a period in which they dictated play, four straight penalties killed their momentum. The Devils took advantage of a Martin Rucinsky hooking call to regain the lead. They had it when Gionta finished a Gomez pass at the doorstep for his team-leading 34th at 10:27. It would turn out to be the winner.

Notes: Marshall received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for making a chicken gesture at Kasparaitis after his fight challenge was turned down late in the second. ... Ranger defenseman Marek Malik left the game in the first after a Cam Janssen hit along the boards. ... Devil defenseman Richard Matvichuk missed his second game in a row with a stomach virus. ... Devils left wing Patrik Elias sat out his third straight game with a bruised rib. ... In his third start in a row spanning the Olympic Break, Weekes turned aside 18 of 20 shots. Swedish gold medallist Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start for the Rangers (36-16-8, 80 pts) Monday against conference leader Carolina (42-14-4, 88 pts).

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