1 Total Update since February 22, 2011
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The New Jersey Devils (26-30-4) are making the impossible a reality.
New Jersey defeated the Dallas Stars (31-23-6), 1-0, tonight at the American Airlines Center to move within nine points of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The win gave the Devils eight in a row. It's their longest win streak since October 29 to November 14 of 2009.
Rookie Nick Palmieri scored the lone goal - and game winner - with 5:37 left in the third period. With the Devils on the powerplay, Mark Fayne sent a pass cross-ice to Ilya Kovalchuk. The left-winger broke his stick on a shot, sending a dribbler toward the net. Palmieri deflected the bouncing puck past Kari Lehtonen for his sixth goal of the season.
"Probably my biggest goal to date, I'd have to say," Palmieri told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger.
With an assist on the game-winning goal, Kovalchuk stretched his point streak to 11 games. It's the longest streak of his career.
The win pushed the Devils closer to the .500 mark. The last time New Jersey sat four games under .500 was prior to their 5-2 loss against the San Jose Sharks on October 27.
The Stars outplayed the Devils throughout the first two periods, racking up several quality scoring chances. But Johan Hedberg stood tall, stopping each attempt. But it would be Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov who would make the most important save.
With 2:32 seconds left in the second period, Hedberg came out of his crease to make a save. Brian Sutherby collected the rebound, and looked to have an open net. Volchenkov shut down the opportunity, sliding into the open netmouth and using his hand and the paddle of Hedberg's stick to stop the shot.
"It hit his stick but I pushed it forward," Volchenkov told Chere. "Great save by me."
Hedberg continued his personal hot streak. In the past three games, he's allowed one goal on 60 shots. He's also won his last seven starts.
With the win and Carolina's 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers, the Devils sit just nine points back. New Jersey has 20 games left and a game in hand on the Canes.
This was the first time Jamie Langenbrunner faced the Devils since being traded to Dallas on January 7. He had only two shots in the game...Newly-acquired defenseman Alex Goligoski played tonight for the Stars. He was acquired from the Penguins...Adam Mair needed eight stitches to close a cut below his right eye. Stars center Tomas Vincour high-sticked him in the first period, but no penalty was called...Martin Brodeur served as a backup for the second straight game...The Devils ended a four-game losing streak at the American Airlines Center.
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But he still wants to beat them.
"Obviously, they're playing well," Langenbrunner told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "Any team that's playing well, you've got to make it hard on them. You can't make it easy for them. They're obviously playing with a lot of confidence. A lot of guys that earlier in the year might have missed opportunities are now catching pucks going in the net again and that's great."
Langenbrunner and the struggling Dallas Stars (31-22-6) take on the surging Devils tonight at the American Airlines Center.
A split between the Devils and Langenbrunner was a long time coming. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello asked the former captain to waive his no-trade clause during the preseason. That move, Langenbrunner said, affected his play significantly.
"I regretted how I let it affect me," he told Gulitti. "For me, when they ask that, thinking that they didn't want me there anymore, I let it affect me more than I should have instead of just playing hockey. For that reason, it might have been better for me to go when they asked originally or for me to deal with it better. So, that's part of learning nad part of figuring out how your mind reacts to things."
Lamoriello said the trade was nothing personal.
"No one should try to read anything into it," Lamoriello said to Gulitti. "We simply had made a decision that we weren't going to re-sign him and wanted to give other players an opportunity. What it's done is it's given Brian Rolston a chance to play in a spot where he fits better and allowed young players such as Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri to have more of a chance to further their development."
Tonight's reunion underscores an important game for both teams. The Stars, just 2-9-1 in their last 12 games, fell into a four-way tie for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. They've lost four in a row, dropping their most recent game, 5-2, to the Vancouver Canucks.
The Devils are on a torrid 15-1-2 stretch that put them right back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. When they traded Langenbrunner, the Devils were an afterthought for the playoffs. With seven straight wins, New Jersey moved itself within 10 points of the Carolina Hurricanes for the eighth seed in the East.
New Jersey extended its win streak with a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night. The Devils jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, putting the 'Canes in an insurmountable hole. That defeat was the Devils third win over Carolina in 11 days.
Despite being traded earlier this season, Langenbrunner hopes the Devils complete their miracle comeback.
"I'm definitely rooting for them," Langenbrunner told Gulitti. "I have a lot of extremely close friends there and what a story if they could come all the way back and get in. That doesn't mean I'm going to hand them two points on Tuesday. We need them pretty bad too. But I'll be excited to see them and excited to play against them."