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Game 69 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Time: 7 PM EST/4 PM PST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG+ (HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (41-24-3) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins (41-23-5)

The Last Devils Game: A great start gave away to the Boston Bruins trying to claw their way back into the game. Or did they? While the Bruins had the quantity in shots, the quality wasn't really there and Martin Brodeur stopped all he had a chance on. The first period explosion of three goals by Rob Niedemayer, David Clarkson, and Zach Parise was enough to yank Tim Thomas and hold on for the win. The Devils won 3-2 and I recapped the game here.

The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins got two scares on Sunday against Tampa Bay: a slewfoot by Steve Downie on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leaving the game early after taking a Kris Letang shot off his foot. Crosby was OK and played a ton of minutes in the third to make up for his absence. The score may have been close at 2-1, but the Penguins outshot the Lightning 39-22 and Marc-Andre Fleury played very well against those 22 shots. Hooks Orpik at PensBurgh recapped the game.

The Last Devils-Penguins Game: This seems a bit daft given that it was just on Friday. All the same, the game itself was emotional, intense, physical, and loaded with action. Both goaltenders played well, but the Devils got the better of the bounces - be it off the boards for Patrik Elias to score, off Fleury's pads setting up Andy Greene for a pile driver of a shot, or a deft push of a glove allowing Ilya Kovalchuk's shot to get through. The Devils won 3-1 and it was big not just because of the opponent but it was a second consecutive win at the time - their first since the second week of January. I recapped the game here; and Justin M of PensBurgh had his take over here. The Devils are 5-0 against the Penguins this season and are looking for the season series sweep tonight.

The Goal: Don't get caught up in the hype. The night Scott Stevens' number was retired. The night Ken Daneyko's number was retired. The nights honoring the Stanley Cup Championship winning teams. The night were Martin Brodeur had a chance to win his 552nd career game (a year ago to this date!). They weren't just memorable games, they were games where the Devils won - often with a dominating performance. Tonight's game has the same feeling of history as for the first time in the team's history, they will wear throwback jerseys from the 1980s. Some players love the look; Brodeur's going to rock his original mask from his 1992 call up; and it's going to be big atmosphere at the Rock tonight what with the promotion and it being St. Patrick's Day.

You know who doesn't care? Pittsburgh. They bounced back from Friday's loss and they want this game. They don't want to go 0-6 against New Jersey. They don't want to give up the Atlantic Division lead. They don't want to falter yet again to Martin Brodeur and his crew. They definitely didn't forget about Friday's game and more than a few Pens would love to have a crack at a few players. If the Devils get too caught up in the day, they're going to suffer at the sticks of the Penguins. The Devils knows what it takes: consistent effort, consistent puck movement, consistent shots, and smart decision making in their own zone. But they're not going to be able to do it one more time if they're just showing up happy to be there.

Check out PensBurgh for the Penguins' side of things in tonight's game. Please read on after the jump for my additional thoughts.

It's always difficult previewing a game between two opponents who just played each other because there's usually not a whole lot left to say. Well, PensBurgh has two items of importance. First, a breakdown of Marc-Andre Fleury's stats by month. March has been very good to Fleury. The 3-1 loss he suffered last Friday was only the fourth time he lost a decision in the month of March in his career. That makes the win all the more impressive - but can the Devils do it a second time? The Devils are going to be quick about any loose pucks or available rebounds or be incredibly aggressive with screens to have the best chances to beat him. He seemed to have picked up his groove again in Sunday's game against the offensive wizards of Tampa Bay. Expect him in net tonight to duel with Martin Brodeur:

2009 - Martin Brodeur 64 3726 38 22 146 2.35 1694 1548 .914 7
2009 - Marc-Andre Fleury 55 3128 32 17 138 2.65 1482 1344 .907 0

Second, despite the X-rays showing negative for any damage, Evgeni Malkin is officially day-to-day with a foot injury. (hattip: PensBurgh). Now, per this post at PensBurgh, he didn't practice with the team today. This doesn't mean he's not playing tonight. I'm sure that will be a gametime decision. If he does, then he could possibly less than effective out there. If he doesn't play, the Devils defense should expect to see a lot more of Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. Malkin has missed games earlier this season due to injury so it's not as if the Penguins haven't played without him tonight; don't expect the team's attitude or confidence to suffer should Malkin not play.

As for the Devils, a bombshell of sorts was dropped at the optional practice on Wednesday. As reported by Tom Gulitti, Rich Chere, and the team's official site: Paul Martin is a possible return tonight. Martin himself said that he's "50-50" about playing. From his quotes in the article, I get the sense that he wants to return to playing games ASAP PDQ. Understandable. After all, the last game he played was on October 29, against the Penguins. I and the Devils faithful would love for him to return when he's ready. Apparently, the bone is healed - the question is whether his arm and wrist are strong enough And even if Martin and his physical therapist say "yes," it's up to Jacques Lemaire as to whether to put him in.

Let me make this uninformed opinion: Say no, Jacques. I'd rather have Martin wait it out until tomorrow's game in Toronto or Saturday's game against St. Louis. I'm not so much concerned about a possible re-injury, but I don't want him to rush himself back into a game where the opposition is very good and will be quite possibly very fierce tonight. I'd prefer he get back into his playing habits against offenses that don't feature the best player in the world or will be desperate to avoid losing a sixth game to New Jersey. When he's more than just "50-50" about playing, then by all means, let Martin do his thing. But I don't think tonight is the best situation for a return.

That said, like Malkin, Martin will probably be a gametime decision. As for the Devils' lineup, I think the group that played on Friday would suffice for another go around. So I will wildly and blindly guess that they will be in tonight. Except I'd replace Mark Fraser in for Anssi Salmela. Fraser was OK against Boston, I don't see a reason to switch him out. Of course, if Lemaire does decide that Paul Martin is ready, then I would expect him to be in for Fraser/Salmela.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - David Clarkson
Jay Pandolfo - Dean McAmmond - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

Bryce Salvador - Andy Greene
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Mark Fraser - Martin Skoula

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Do I think the Devils can succeed? Of course. But they need to sharpen up the passing and if they get a lead, they need to continue attacking until it's a comfortable lead. Malkin or no Malkin, the Penguins aren't to be trifled with. They also need to absolutely avoid playing like those Devils teams in those red-white-and-green jerseys. Tom Gulitti compiled the Devils' record and top players in those jerseys and, quite frankly, they weren't good then.

In any case, this game will be huge for the Atlantic Division. A Devils win will put them (temporarily) right back into first place with a game in hand on Pittsburgh. A Penguins win will give them a 4 point lead and control their own destiny for the moment. I'd love to see the Devils sweep a divisional rival and send what will likely be a sellout crowd at the Rock home very happy. I'll be in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16; if you can make it, then make it - if not, watch it on TV or by radio or NHL GameCenter because this should be one entertaining game.

A GameThread will be up later for comments during the game. In the meantime, please place all your thoughts, complaints, concerns, corrections, and any news updates (with actual links to the news reporting) in the comments. Go Devils!