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The New York Rangers finished behind the New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division standings last season, but when the teams met head-to-head, it was the Rangers who dominated their bitter rivals.
New Jersey's luck wasn't any better against New York in the first round of the playoffs.
The teams will square off Monday at Madison Square Garden for the first time since a five-game series last spring that, like most of their recent meetings, was owned by the Rangers.
New York (4-0-0) earned 15 of 16 possible points against New Jersey in 2007-08, going 7-0-1 and outscoring the Devils 17-9 in a series that hinged on the fantastic play of Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers' 26-year-old goaltender was in net for all eight games, posting two shutouts and a 1.09 goals-against average.
Lundqvist wasn't quite as sharp against the Devils in the postseason, but he was still good enough to help New York advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. He had a 2.36 GAA as the Rangers eliminated New Jersey in five games, and provided the series' signature moment. With New York up 4-3 late in the third period of Game 5, Lundqvist denied Devils forward John Madden on a penalty shot, and the Rangers went on to win 5-3.
"That's what makes him special," then-New York forward Jaromir Jagr, now playing in Russia, said after the series. "In the key situations, he comes up big."
Lundqvist has helped the Rangers - trying to start 5-0-0 for the first time since 1983-84 - continue their fast start with some more stellar play. He's been in net for three of the team's wins, posting a 1.33 GAA and a .944 save percentage.
In the team's most recent game, however, New York showed it has more than just Lundqvist to frustrate opposing offenses. Backup Stephen Valiquette has only 10 career wins to his credit, but five of those have come against Philadelphia, including the Rangers' 4-3 win on Saturday.
Valiquette was given four first-period goals to work with, including offseason acquisition Nikolai Zherdev's second of the season.
"We've won every way," said Rangers center Scott Gomez, who spent his first seven seasons with the Devils. "We've won with special teams. We've won on the road. We've held the lead. We've come from behind. We're learning how to win."
Gomez had three goals and an assist against his former team in the playoffs.
The Rangers have lived and died with the play of Lundqvist for the past four years, but New Jersey (2-0-0) has relied on Martin Brodeur for the better part of two decades. The future Hall of Famer has won 135 games the past three seasons - no one else has won more than 121 - and he's 2-0 thus far in 2008-09.
Brodeur has conceded just two goals overall, and limited Pittsburgh's high-powered offense to one in 64:18 on Saturday in the Devils' 2-1 overtime win.
"It was like one of those games when I first came into the league, not a lot of shots and not a lot of goals," Brodeur said.
Despite going 1-4-3 against the Rangers in the regular season in 2007-08, Brodeur had a 1.96 GAA. In his career versus New York, Brodeur is 39-19-4 with 15 ties and a 2.06 GAA.
While Brodeur has been his usual self in net, the Devils are again struggling to score. New Jersey needed a deflection off a Penguin defender's skate to force overtime on Saturday, and has just four goals on 78 shots this season. It had 49 shots against Pittsburgh.
"When you get that many shots, you could get discouraged but we didn't," said forward Brian Rolston.
The Devils have won just once in regulation in their last nine trips to Madison Square Garden.
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