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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Tuesday, April 6th (All times eastern)

New Jersey Devils (45-26-7) at Atlanta Thrashers (34-32-13), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Ilya Kovalchuk will make his return to Atlanta tonight as his New Jersey Devils visit the Thrashers for an important Eastern Conference clash at Philips Arena.

Kovalchuk was traded to the Devils on Feb. 4 after spending his entire career with Atlanta and the Russian has posted 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 23 games with New Jersey.

Atlanta made Kovalchuk the top overall pick in the 2001 draft and he holds club records in virtually every offensive category. He notched 328 goals and 287 assists in 594 games with the Thrashers.

"I had a great relationship with the fans, and with every single person in that organization," Kovalchuk said of returning to Atlanta. "I hope nobody takes it personally."

Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela were dealt to New Jersey for defenseman Johnny Oduya, right wing Nicklas Bergfors, forward Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick.

New Jersey will continue its quest for the Atlantic Division title tonight, while Kovalchuk's old mates try to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

The Devils have already clinched a postseason berth and enter Tuesday's action tied with Pittsburgh atop the Atlantic with four games left for both clubs. The Penguins are in action tonight against the visiting Washington Capitals.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is three points out of a playoff spot with just three games remaining. The Thrashers are 10th in the East and one point behind the ninth- seeded New York Rangers.

After dropping a shootout loss Friday against visiting Chicago, the Devils ended a three-game slide by posting a shutout victory Saturday in Raleigh. Martin Brodeur recorded his eighth shutout of the season by stopping all 26 shots he faced in lifting the Devils to the 4-0 triumph at RBC Center.

Zach Parise, Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson all tallied a goal and an assist each for the Devils.

Brodeur recorded his first shutout since Jan. 20 and is now tied with Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov for the most in the league. The legendary Devils netminder also increased his NHL record in career shutouts to 109.

"It's a good game for us," said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. "You know we played really well last night and that game last night just carried over into tonight. We played the same way we did last night so we're pleased with this."

The Devils are 20-16-3 as the guest this year and will close out their road schedule Thursday at Florida. New Jersey will cap its regular-season slate with a two-game homestand this weekend.

Atlanta has not played like a team worthy of a playoff spot down the stretch, losing five of its last seven games. The Thrashers enter tonight's action on a two-game slide, losing in regulation Thursday against Washington before dropping Saturday's overtime loss in Pittsburgh. Jordan Leopold scored 2:50 into OT, lifting the Penguins to the 4-3 decision at Mellon Arena.

Maxim Afinogenov, Rich Peverley and Tim Stapleton each registered a goal for the Thrashers. Johan Hedberg stopped 31-of-35 shots in the loss.

Atlanta defenseman Pavel Kubina missed his second straight game with an upper- body injury and is questionable for tonight's test. Kubina is second among Thrashers blueliners with 38 points this year.

The Thrashers are 18-15-6 as the host this year, but have lost three straight on home ice.

The Devils have taken two of three from Atlanta this year and have won eight of the last 11 meetings overall. New Jersey has also come out on top in its last five trips to Atlanta.

04/06 10:49:58 ET

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