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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, December 31st (All times eastern)

New Jersey Devils (28-9-1) at Chicago Blackhawks (26-10-3), 8:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - A pair of division leaders will face off in an interconference showdown to close out 2009 this evening at the United Center, where the visiting New Jersey Devils aim to continue their recent mastery of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils enter tonight's clash having won seven of their last eight games and extended their advantage over second-place Pittsburgh in the standings with last night's 2-0 triumph over the Penguins. New Jersey now holds a four-point cushion on the defending Stanley Cup champions for the top spot.

Martin Brodeur recorded his second shutout of Pittsburgh in 10 days to spark Wednesday's win, with the legendary goaltender stopping all 32 shots he faced. Brodeur had made 35 saves in New Jersey's 4-0 victory over the Penguins on December 21, surpassing Terry Sawchuk for sole possession of first place on the NHL's all-time list with his 104th career shutout.

"It was a big challenge for us to meet the Penguins again," said Brodeur after last night's game. "Everybody responded to the challenge tonight. We played a smart game and were on the puck quick."

Niclas Bergfors and Jamie Langenbrunner each had a goal to back Brodeur and help the Devils to their 11th win in their last 13 outings.

New Jersey has also garnered more than its share of success when facing the Blackhawks over the years. The Devils had registered 10 wins and two ties in the last 12 meetings between these teams before Chicago broke through with a 3-2 overtime decision at the United Center back in March.

Lifetime versus Chicago, Brodeur is 8-2 with four ties and a 1.96 goals against average in 16 appearances (15 starts).

The Blackhawks don't figure to be an easy test this time around, however. Chicago currently leads the Central Division and stands second in the Western Conference with 55 points and had ripped off three straight wins prior to Tuesday's 5-4 defeat at Dallas.

In addition, Chicago has prevailed in 14 of its last 16 matchups at the United Center and sports an excellent 17-4-1 mark at home this season. The Devils counter with the league's best road record, a 13-3-1 ledger.

Patrick Kane scored twice in Tuesday's losing cause and has notched at least one goal in five straight games, with the young Chicago standout having posted 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) over that span. Defenseman Duncan Keith assisted on Kane's second tally to extend his point streak to seven contests, in which he's delivered nine helpers in addition to one goal.

Kane's effort on Tuesday couldn't overcome a shaky performance between the pipes from Blackhawks netminder Cristobal Huet, who gave up four goals on only 10 shots before being yanked early in the second period. Antti Niemi went the rest of the way and saved 13-of-14 chances.

12/31 11:03:34 ET

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