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 out at least one more game, 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.
|Rangers forward Marian Gaborik and the Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk tend to bring out the best in each other, and both players enter tonight's matchup at the top of their games with a lot of points in recent weeks.|
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 are 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.
New York (31-24-4) had won four straight in this series before falling 3-2 at home Feb. 3.
After snapping a 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.
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