Points still important to Devils, Blackhawks
BLACKHAWKS (47-22-7) at DEVILS (44-26-6)
Last 10 --
Chicago 3-5-2; New Jersey 4-3-3
Season series --
The Blackhawks won the only other meeting of the season, 5-1, on New Year's Eve in Chicago. The last time Chicago visited Prudential Center, Martin Brodeur picked up his record-breaking 552nd career victory in a 3-2 win.
Big story --
Neither team is on the verge of missing the playoffs, but both are still jockeying for position, and the Blackhawks in particular are hoping to build on their 4-0 win in Minnesota on Wednesday. The Devils would like to find their offensive game again after scoring only one goal in their previous two games. Blackhawks center John Madden returns to New Jersey for the first time as an opponent.
A slumping team went into Minnesota on Wednesday night and blew the doors off the home team for a 4-0 win to break out of its doldrums. The Hawks found offense from depth players like Tomas Kopecky
and Ben Eager, but more importantly goalie Antti Niemi
answered the call. Coach Joel Quenneville chose Niemi as his starter despite the fact that the young Finn had given up four goals the night before in St. Louis. It was only the second time Niemi has played in back-to-back games this season. He made 21 saves for his seventh shutout of the season. The Hawks' defense came to play as well after giving up 16 goals over the previous three games. Chicago spent an off day in New Jersey on Thursday, so an announcement from Quenneville on Friday's starting goalie won't come until the morning skate. If it's Niemi, that's a good sign that Quenneville thinks he'll be Chicago's playoff goalie.
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"It was nice to show him some confidence and he responded with the game we were looking for," Quenneville said.
The points matter for the Devils, who can re-take the lead in the Atlantic Division and the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference with a win. The Devils couldn't score in a 1-0 overtime loss to Boston on Tuesday and got blasted, 5-1, by the Flyers at Wachovia Center on Sunday. After playing Chicago, the Devils hit the road for three straight starting Saturday in Carolina. They held some team meetings Wednesday to discuss their listless play of late, and are hoping it translates into wins. The Devils also held a team meeting after coming home from a Western Canada road trip early last month and they proceeded to win four of their next five games, playing some of their best hockey of the season.
"There are certain points in the season where you need to be doing certain things to be successful and we haven't done that in the last two games," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner told The Bergen Record. "There isn't time to let it snowball. Do you need a meeting to fix that? There's got to be a mindset change and I think we'll be all right."
Who's hot --
Kopecky netted a pair of goals Wednesday night, giving him nine for the season. He has three multiple goal games, though. … Ilya Kovalchuk has eight points over his last five games for the Devils.
Injury report --
The Blackhawks are without defenseman Brian Campbell
(fractured clavicle) and Kim Johnsson (upper body). … The Devils have no significant injuries.
Stat pack --
The last time the Blackhawks won a game in New Jersey was a 6-2 win at Continental Airlines Arena on Dec. 30, 1997. Madden, who signed with Chicago in the offseason, had 140 goals and 157 assists in 712 games with the Devils from 1998-2009. He won the Stanley Cup twice (2000, 2003) and also played in the Cup Final in 2001.
Puck drop --
According to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire isn't planning to give Brodeur any of the remaining six regular season games off. Brodeur also said he feels good and the schedule hasn't been that hard on him.
"There is not another goalie that's played as much as me, but I don't see it as as much of a grind compared to other years," Brodeur said. "I don't know if it's because we were in that comfort zone for a long time, so games weren't tough all the way through. Last year, I (missed 50 games with a torn biceps tendon). Maybe that helps for this year, too."