The New Jersey Devils have been playing some of their best hockey recently to close in on the Eastern Conference lead. The New York Rangers hope the addition of one of the league's feistiest players can help spark a run to get back into the postseason.
The Atlantic Division rivals meet Tuesday in what will likely be the debut of Sean Avery in a Rangers uniform.
New York (25-24-4) acquired Avery from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday along with prospect John Seymour for Jason Ward and unsigned forwards Marc-Andre Cliche and Jan Marek. Avery - the NHL's most-penalized player the past two seasons - recorded 10 goals, 18 assists and 116 penalty minutes in 55 games for the Kings in 2006-07.
Now is his fifth season, Avery notched 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 2005-06, all career-bests, along with 257 penalty minutes. Despite his outspoken nature, most notably when the left wing was reprimanded in 2005 after making derogatory remarks toward French-Canadian players, Kings general manger Dean Lombardi said Avery has made progress.
"Sometimes players just take a little time to mature," Lombardi said. "Sean's still young, hopefully he'll continue to do so. He's going to a big stage now. If he continues (to mature), he'll do just fine."
The Rangers are hoping Avery's combative nature can help snap a losing streak that reached three games after a 4-3 loss to Detroit on Monday. New York led 3-1 after one period, but gave up three goals in the final 20 minutes en route to its seventh loss in 10 games.
Michael Nylander had a goal and an assist in the defeat while former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan and Marcel Hossa also scored.
"There's lots of hockey left but we're digging ourselves a hole," said Shanahan, who has three goals and two assists in the last four games.
The Rangers are fourth in the division with 54 points, but remained five points behind defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
While Avery is expected to play, New York may be without Jaromir Jagr, who injured his hip and is questionable. Jagr leads the Rangers with 44 assists and 63 points this season, and needs one goal to move past Bobby Hull for sole possession of 13th place all-time.
Henrik Lundqvist, who played poorly in the third period against Detroit, is 5-1-0 with a 1.48 GAA in his last six starts against New Jersey.
The Devils (32-15-6) pulled within four points of Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo by rallying for a 3-2 victory over the Sabres on Saturday. New Jersey outshot Buffalo 37-17, including 15-5 in the final period when it scored three goals in a 2:31 span.
"We want to try to go forward," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Beating them (Saturday) is a good confidence booster. We were able to shut them down."
Brodeur has had many strong efforts against the Rangers as he's faced them 66 times, more than any other opponent. He's also posted 35 wins, which is tied for his most versus any team. The nine-time All-Star is 24-3-1 with three ties and a 1.66 goals-against average in his last 31 home starts against the Rangers, including a 1-0 shutout on Jan. 16.
The Devils are 18-4-4 at Continental Airlines Arena, where they're playing the second game of a season-high six-game homestand. They also are 24-4-1 with three ties in their last 32 home meetings with the Rangers.
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