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GAME: New York Islanders (20-24-2) at New Jersey Devils (24-18-5).
TIME: Saturday, Noon EST.
The New Jersey Devils won just four of 16 games to close 2005 and appeared in position to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96.
Times have changed.
New Jersey seeks its first nine-game winning streak in nearly five years when it hosts the New York Islanders at Continental Airlines Arena.
The Devils last reeled off nine straight victories during a 13-game streak from Feb. 26-March 23, 2001.
They'll face an Islanders team that is 5-1-1 in its last seven games in the series, including winning the first two meetings this season. However, the Devils are 9-4-0 since a 4-2 setback to New York on Dec. 21 and haven't lost since a 6-3 defeat to Toronto on Dec. 31.
During their winning streak, the Devils have outscored their opponents 29-14 and gone 11-for-24 on the power play, a marked improvement for a unit that began the streak with a 14.5 percent success rate overall.
New Jersey also has leapfrogged Toronto and Atlanta to possess the No. 6 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Part of the improved play can be attributed to Patrik Elias' early January return from Hepatitis A. Elias has three goals and 12 points in seven games, while linemates Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta have increased their production.
In the last eight games, Gomez has three goals and eight assists while Gionta has seven goals and three assists.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur has been stellar as well, compiling a 1.72 goals-against average and three shutouts during the winning streak.
Brodeur came up big again in the Devils' 4-3 shootout win over Nashville on Thursday, making 29 saves in regulation and stopping former Devil Steve Sullivan in the shootout.
Paul Kariya missed the net with his attempt before Gionta scored the game-winner.
"You can't take anything away from the whole game," New Jersey interim coach Lou Lamoriello said. "That was one heck of a hockey game. You couldn't ask for a better one."
The Islanders are 1-6-1 in their last eight road games and 3-10-0 in their last 13 games overall.
In a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Thursday, Arron Asham, Radek Martinek and Mark Parrish had goals for the Islanders, but they were unable to score the equalizer late in the third period.
"Sometimes, it's not enough to work hard," said Parrish, whose 17th tally of the season brought the Islanders to within a goal with 3:01 remaining. "You have to make fewer mistakes, and you've got to work harder and smarter than the other team as well."
The Islanders outshot the Hurricanes 39-25, including 29-12 through the first two periods. However, Hurricanes backup goalie Cam Ward made several clutch saves.
"In the second period, it was pretty good for us," New York coach Brad Shaw said. "We probably played as well as we can as a hockey team and didn't get rewarded quite as much as we thought."
STANDINGS: Islanders - 42 points, 4th place, 22 PB, Atlantic Division. Devils - 53 points, 3rd place, 11 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Jason Blake, Miroslav Satan and Parrish, 17 goals; Alexei Yashin, 24 assists and 40 points; Asham, 86 PIM. Devils - Gionta, 28 goals and 49 points; Gomez, 27 assists; Grant Marshall and Colin White, 49 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 19): Islanders - Power play: 17.1 percent (47 for 275), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.9 percent (239 for 299), 24th. Devils - Power play: 17.3 percent (48 for 277), 16th. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (175 for 214), 15th (tied).
GOALTENDERS: Islanders - Rick DiPietro (15-14-2, 3.42 GAA); Wade Dubielewicz (1-3-0, 3.35). Devils - Brodeur (22-14-3, 3 SO, 2.69); Scott Clemmensen (2-4-2, 3.83).
SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 21; Islanders, 4-2. At Uniondale, N.Y., Mike York had a goal and two assists, and DiPietro made 25 saves to improve to 13-10-2 on the season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 10-13-1 on the road; Devils - 14-7-3 at home.
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