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Slumping Bruins brace for rejuvenated Brodeur, Devils

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 22, 2009
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WILMINGTON - Today at 3 p.m., the New Jersey Devils, one of the most fearsome teams in the NHL, will stare down the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden, eager to leave Boston with a win and close within a point of first place in the Eastern Conference.

So considering the opponent, and the slump in which they currently find themselves (6-9-3-1 since Feb. 7), motivation shouldn't appear on the Bruins' checklist of issues.

"Right now, when you look at our situation, I would like to see our team - and I know our team will play hard - compete," coach Claude Julien said after a rare Saturday practice at Ristuccia Arena yesterday. "If we do that and we play the way we can, hopefully a win will follow that.

"But before we can even talk about wins, we need a performance from our team. If we get the performance, hopefully a win will follow. That's what we need right now."

Milan Lucic, who played for New Jersey coach Brent Sutter in the 2007 Canada-Russia Super Series, sees a tough Devils club that rolls four lines and doesn't give its opponents much room to breathe.

"I think the biggest thing about them is that they take away your time and space and take away your chances," Lucic said. "As much as people say they sit back, to me, they're right in your face. That's how it all ties in to being tough to play against.

"You see their best player in [Zach] Parise, and being their best player, he's probably their hardest-working player, too. He leads with his work ethic.

"They have a lot of character guys. You can go down the whole lineup and you can see a bunch of guys who play hard. They get rewarded for playing hard and working hard. That's what makes them such a tough team to play against."

On Dec. 23, the Bruins swaggered into the Prudential Center in Newark and kick-started their holiday break with a 2-0 blanking of the Devils, one of their most thorough efforts of the season. It was the Bruins' sixth straight victory in a 10-game winning streak.

But the Devils have become a far deeper club since then. They've signed veteran wing Brendan Shanahan. They've acquired dependable defenseman Niclas Havelid from Atlanta. And they've only welcomed back one of the best goalies in league history.

In the last three showdowns, the Bruins have gone up against Scott Clemmensen in the New Jersey net. While the former Boston College goaltender went 2-1-0 against the Bruins in the three starts, he's no Martin Brodeur.

Since returning from biceps surgery, the future Hall of Famer has reeled off a 9-1-0 record. Last Tuesday against Chicago, Brodeur earned his 552d career victory to pass Patrick Roy as the NHL's winningest goalie.

On Friday, Brodeur stopped 35 shots and blanked Minnesota by a 4-0 score. It was his 101st career shutout, putting him two behind Terry Sawchuk's all-time record.

For the first time in recent years, Brodeur is fresh entering the home stretch and the start of the playoffs.

"He's obviously got some personal goals he'd like to achieve," Julien said. "That makes him that much better. He's always been a character player. I think everybody knows that. He knows what's at stake, too. He'll certainly be up to the challenge."

After a scoreless first period Friday, the Devils tucked three second-period pucks behind Niklas Backstrom, prompting Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire to pull his stingy netminder.

"After the first period, to me, it was pretty even," Julien said of New Jersey's win. "Then they got an opportunity to score. They got a couple quick ones in the second and put the game out of reach for Minnesota, who's obviously been struggling scoring goals.

"I really think they've got a lot of depth up front. Depth and experience. That's certainly helped them a lot. They've got a great goaltender. Overall, their D is very underrated.

"They're moving the puck well. They're strong. They've got some guys that people don't know as well. They're pretty well solid all around."

New Jersey has a state of confidence that the Bruins would like to regain. When they're at their best, the Bruins are playing chip-and-drive hockey. After a light-hearted scrimmage Friday, the Bruins emphasized races and puck battles in yesterday's practice - two things they'll have to win today if they want to compete against the Devils.

"I think guys in the last couple days have seemed to be executing better," Julien said. "Maybe it's a turning point."

. . .

Yesterday marked only the second time the Bruins didn't play on Saturday this season. The last Saturday they had off was Jan. 24 during the All-Star break . . . Boston College forward Brock Bradford, whose college career ended with a 3-2 loss to Boston University Friday, can now join the Bruins' Providence affiliate on an amateur tryout contract. Bradford was Boston's seventh-round pick in 2005.

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