Devils-Maple Leafs Preview

The Associated Press

The New Jersey Devils' surge has lifted them into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. A matchup with the sinking Toronto Maple Leafs could help them solidify their spot in the standings.

Eying a chance for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Devils try to win their fourth in a row Tuesday night when they visit the Maple Leafs, losers of five of six.

New Jersey (34-20-4) defeated Montreal 3-1 on Sunday, pushing it past Pittsburgh and Philadelphia into fourth place in the East. Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Matt Taormina scored and Martin Brodeur made 21 saves for the Devils, 8-1-1 since the All-Star break.

"The roll that we're on, it's well-deserved," Brodeur said. "The boys are working really hard, we're playing with a lot of passion every night, guys are blocking shots, making second efforts. We're happy with the position that we're in but we just want to move forward."

Brodeur has played a major role in his team's hot streak, going 7-1-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average in starting eight times since the break.

"He's on top of his game right now, and it gives the whole team confidence," coach Peter DeBoer said.

While Brodeur has been outstanding in net, Ilya Kovalchuk and Parise have powered the Devils offensively during their surge. Kovalchuk has totaled six goals and 12 assists since the break, while Parise has seven goals and five assists in the last 12 games.

New Jersey's climb up the standings has it going in the opposite direction from Toronto (29-24-6). The Leafs' 1-5-0 stretch that has followed a 5-0-1 run has the club in a desperate battle to stay in playoff position.

Toronto broke a four-game losing streak Wednesday against Edmonton but couldn't follow the win Saturday, falling 6-2 to Vancouver in the finale of a three-game trip through western Canada.

The Leafs, outscored 25-11 over the past six games, allowed the Canucks' Alex Burrows and Daniel and Henrik Sedin to combine for 10 points.

"We played a really good team with probably our battery down a little bit," coach Ron Wilson said. "They really took advantage of us. Every little opening, they moved the puck really well, and we had our heads spinning at times in our own end."

James Reimer allowed four goals on 18 shots before being lifted in favor of Jonas Gustavsson in the second period. Reimer has posted a 4.31 GAA in his last five games while Gustavsson has a 3.42 GAA in his last four starts, though Wilson refused to blame his goalies for the latest defeat.

Gustavsson has won his last three games versus the Devils with a 1.67 GAA, most recently beating them 5-3 on the road with 19 saves Nov. 2. Reimer started the other matchup with New Jersey this season and lost 3-2 in overtime at home Dec. 6, giving up Clarkson's goal in the extra period.

Brodeur was in net for that game and has won two of his last three starts in the series, giving up two goals in each of the victories. However, he's gone 2-3-0 in his last five matchups with the Leafs and posted a 3.37 GAA in the last eight.

Toronto leading scorer Phil Kessel has four goals and eight assists in his previous eight games, and two goals and three assists in his last four versus New Jersey.

The Devils have won three of four overall meetings and the last two at Air Canada Centre.

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