Rangers-Devils Preview

Johan Hedberg’s recent performance in goal, along with Ilya

Kovalchuk’s sudden offensive surge, has allowed the New Jersey

Devils to take their time with an injured Martin Brodeur.

With Brodeur serving as backup, Hedberg and the Devils look for

a season-best sixth consecutive win Friday night against the

visiting New York Rangers.

Kovalchuk extended his point streak to a season-high eight games

with his team-leading 20th goal Wednesday night, helping New Jersey

(23-30-4) record a fifth consecutive victory, 3-2 over

Carolina.

Kovalchuk had just 10 goals through the first three months of

the season, and the Devils sat at the bottom of the Eastern

Conference with 10 wins in their first 41 games.

Both the two-time 50-goal scorer and his team have thrived

recently. Kovalchuk’s last 10 goals have coincided with New

Jersey’s 13-1-2 stretch – including one in each of the last three

games.

“That’s what happens when the team struggles,” Kovalchuk said of

his earlier poor play. “This game is not an individual sport. It’s

all about team effort. When everybody is struggling, it’s tough to

find your best effort. But now we’re winning and we’re feeling good

about ourselves.”

Hedberg should also be feeling good about himself. The veteran

backup made 25 saves Wednesday and is undefeated with a 1.46

goals-against average in four starts since Brodeur injured his knee

in a 4-1 win Feb. 6 at Montreal.

While Hedberg is excited about his team’s success, he knows

plenty of work remains if New Jersey hopes to make a 14th

consecutive postseason appearance. The Devils remain 12 points out

of the final playoff spot, and 16 behind the seventh-place

Rangers.

“This is the way we’re going to have to do it,” Hedberg said.

“It’s a lot more fun to win than losing. We just have to keep

working as hard as we are now and win the next one.”

Hedberg is 11-5-2 with a 2.17 lifetime GAA versus the Rangers.

He stopped 17 of 20 shots in a 3-0 home loss Nov. 5. The Devils

activated Brodeur on Friday afternoon and said he will be Hedberg’s

backup for this game.

New York (31-24-4) had won four straight in this series before

falling 3-2 at home Feb. 3.

After snapping their season-worst six-game winless drought with

a 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Rangers defeated Los

Angeles 4-3 in a shootout Thursday night as Henrik Lundqvist

recorded the 200th win of his career.

Lundqvist, who made 25 saves through overtime, also recorded

back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 5 and 7.

“It was a really important game for us to get two in a row and

try to start a good streak,” he said. “Teams are catching up.”

Ryan Callahan, who had two goals and an assist versus the

Penguins, recorded one of each Thursday. Callahan has scored in his

last two meetings with the Devils and has five points over his last

five games in the series.

Lundqvist had gone 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA versus the Devils this

season before allowing three goals in the Feb. 3 loss. He’s won

four of five at the Prudential Center.

Defenseman Anton Volchenkov is eligible to return for New Jersey

after serving a three-game suspension for elbowing Carolina’s Zach

Boychuk on Feb. 8.