The last time the New Jersey Devils faced the New York Rangers, Martin Brodeur(notes) and Henrik Lundqvist(notes) both earned shutouts in a stunning display of goaltending. Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) could provide the difference for New Jersey this time.
Kovalchuk will try to help the Devils win consecutive games for the first time since Brodeur outlasted Lundqvist in last month’s visit to Madison Square Garden as the Atlantic Division leaders face the sputtering Rangers on Saturday night.
The Devils (36-18-2) beat the Rangers 1-0 in a shootout on Jan. 12 as Brodeur and Lundqvist were locked in an astounding goaltending duel before Zach Parise(notes) clinched the victory in the fourth round of the tiebreaker.
Brodeur finished with a career-high 51 saves through overtime before turning aside three attempts in the shootout, while Lundqvist also had a personal best of 45 stops before getting beat by Parise.
New Jersey hasn’t enjoyed much success since, going 4-7-1. The Devils have been outscored 25-8 in the losses and shut out three times.
The lack of scoring was a big reason the Devils acquired Kovalchuk in Thursday’s blockbuster five-player trade with Atlanta that also included three draft picks.
Kovalchuk, who had 31 goals and 27 assists with the Thrashers prior to the deal, got two assists in his Devils’ debut Friday, as New Jersey scored twice in the final 43.7 seconds to clinch a 4-3 win over Toronto. The star left wing setup Travis Zajac’s(notes) tying goal before Jay Pandolfo(notes) netted the eventual winner with 18.9 seconds left.
“It wasn’t my best game, but I think we did all right, especially getting the two points,” said Kovalchuk, whose biggest play might have been keeping the puck in the Maple Leafs’ zone prior to Zajac’s goal.
Kovalchuk will now experience the heated rivalry with the Rangers, against whom he’s scored one goal with three assists in his last two visits to MSG.
Brodeur should be in net again as he tries to win a third start in a row at New York after posting a 0.96 goals-against average in the last two victories there. He made 17 saves Friday for his second win in five games.
New York has gone 3-9-0 since the shootout loss to New Jersey. The Rangers (25-26-7) have been outscored 34-12 in those defeats and shut out four times.
They made their own move to spur their struggling offense, acquiring Olli Jokinen(notes) and left wing Brandon Prust(notes) from Calgary on Tuesday in exchange for underachieving wings Ales Kotalik(notes) and Christopher Higgins(notes).
Jokinen found the net and set up another goal in his second game for the Rangers on Thursday, but they fell 6-5 to Washington as Lundqvist dropped a sixth consecutive start.
“It’s easy to start questioning your game when you let in six goals, but I don’t think I played that bad,” said Lundqvist, who has a 4.11 GAA during his losing streak and will likely be in net Saturday. “It was just a really tough game. They find ways to create big scoring chances. They don’t shoot that much, but they find openings.”
Despite his recent struggles, Lundqvist is 10-2-2 with a 1.34 GAA and four shutouts in 14 meetings with the Devils at MSG.
The Rangers are tied with Florida for ninth, two points behind Philadelphia and Tampa Bay for the final two playoff spots.
“Everybody knows where we’re at in the standings,” said Jokinen, who has three goals and two assists in six games against New Jersey while playing for Florida and Calgary. “We’ve got to treat every game like a playoff game.”