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GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (17-3-7-1) at New Jersey Devils (15-5-6-0).TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Just because the Philadelphia Flyers are comfortably in first place, that does not mean they control the Atlantic Division.
To truly do that, the Flyers must show they're better than the archrival New Jersey Devils.
Philadelphia will have two chances to do so this weekend, first with a visit to Continental Airlines Arena in the opener of a home-and-home series.
These teams have already separated themselves from the pack in the Atlantic. The Flyers lead the NHL with 42 points and stand six ahead of the Devils, while no other team in the division is above .500.
Philadelphia, which hosts New Jersey on Saturday night, has lost only once in its last 18 games (13-1-4). That streak dates to a 3-2 loss on Oct. 30 in the first matchup of the season between these clubs.
The Devils have lost once in the last seven meetings (5-1-1) with the Flyers.
"We think we are on their level, but they continue to do the proper things from the first line to the fourth line to the six defensemen," Flyers forward Mark Recchi said after his team's latest loss to the Devils.
Plus, New Jersey has proven to be the better team when it matters most -- in postseason play.
The Devils have been to the Stanley Cup finals in three of the last four years, winning twice. The only time the Flyers have advanced past the second round of the playoffs in the last six years came in 2000, when they lost to New Jersey in the Eastern Conference finals.
Martin Brodeur has led the Devils to three straight wins, allowing one goal. Brodeur, the NHL's player of the month for November, has had to face just 36 shots during that stretch while raising his league-leading shutout total to six.
New Jersey needed a strong performance from the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Wednesday, with Brodeur stopping all 18 shots he faced before Patrik Elias scored at 2:09 of overtime in a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders.
"I usually never think about a shutout, but with 10 minutes left in the game I knew I was going to have to do it for us to win," Brodeur said.
His counterpart in net is likely to be Jeff Hackett, who has surrendered 13 goals in his last 10 starts while posting a 7-0-3 record.
He made 19 saves Wednesday as Philadelphia improved to 1-0-2 on its four-game road trip with a 1-1 tie at Columbus. The Flyers were on the verge of losing to the Blue Jackets for the first time, but Sami Kapanen scored with 1:08 left in regulation.
"This team has tremendous spirit," Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's lots of teams with this much depth and this many skilled players, but this team has a very unique spirit. Every game we play right now we get the other team's 'A' game."
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