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GAME: New Jersey Devils (21-11-9-1) at New York Rangers (18-16-5-4).TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.
A matchup with the New York Rangers usually provides the New Jersey Devils with a good chance for a victory. This time, however, the slumping Devils will be facing a Rangers club coming off perhaps its best game of the season.
Following what may have been their most humbling loss of 2003-04, the Devils travel to Madison Square Garden for the second meeting of the season between the Atlantic Division rivals.
The Devils were shut out for the first time on home ice in more than a year and for only the second time this season Tuesday night, 4-0 at the hands of the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators' Patrick Lalime made 26 saves to hand the Devils their first shutout at Continental Airlines Arena since he beat them 2-0 on Dec. 18, 2002.
Martin Brodeur, who faced 23 shots, hardly had a chance on any of Ottawa's first three goals -- all of which came on odd-man rushes.
"They are a talented team," Brodeur said of the Senators. "The way we've had success is to always play them solid and play them tough. They have been playing well, but today, we didn't show up enough to win this hockey game."
The Devils lost for the first time in three games against the Senators this season. New Jersey defeated Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals last year en route to its third Stanley Cup championship.
Fans booed loudly as New Jersey fell behind 3-0 in the second period Tuesday and lost its third straight home game, dropping it to 1-3 in its last four overall. The Devils, outscored 12-4 during that span, are 3-6-2 in their last 11.
Despite the recent struggles, New Jersey remains in second place in the division, three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils hope to get their offense going against the Rangers, whom they defeated 5-0 in the first meeting Nov. 15.
New Jersey, however, may find itself up against what seems like a different Rangers club this time around. The Rangers put together their most complete effort of 2003-04 on Tuesday night, defeating the New York Islanders 4-1 at the Garden.
Tom Poti had a goal and assist, and Brian Leetch set up two scores as the Rangers moved into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The victory was the Rangers' fourth straight over the Islanders, who entered the game one point ahead of the Rangers.
"We wish we played more games against those guys," center Petr Nedved said after the Rangers stretched their unbeaten streak against the Isles to eight (6-0-2). "We've had their number."
Alex Kovalev, Vladimir Malakhov and Eric Lindros also scored as the Rangers improved to 1-1 on a three-game homestand and snapped a three-game slide at MSG. The Rangers put together a strong defensive effort and looked especially sharp on the power play, converting three times in eight chances.
"We've just got to keep moving along," Lindros said. "We've just got to dig our heels in a little bit further and harder and keep progressing as a team."
The Rangers will be facing a Devils team that is 1-2-1 in its last four games on the road, where New Jersey will play two of its next three.
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