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    Atlantic
    Written by Bill Weisbrod   
    Friday, 20 January 2012 22:13

    In the Devils' goal crease, a journeyman is giving the face of the franchise the toughest in-house competition he's faced in nearly two decades.

    Bill WeisbrodThe New Jersey Devils have two seasoned goaltenders on their roster this season. One, 38-year-old Johan Hedberg, has been a backup most of his NHL career. The other, 39-year-old Martin Brodeur, is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

    But with each seeing action in 21 and 29 of the team's 46 games, respectively, the surprising Hedberg is performing best in Newark this year.

    Brodeur's credentials are unimpeachable – three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies. And the fact that he did it all in New Jersey gives him a strong case for the greatest player in franchise history. But this season alone, it would be difficult to argue Brodeur, not Hedberg, has given the team the best chance to win on a nightly basis.

    Hedberg has played for five different teams over 10 NHL seasons. He has only started more than 50 games in a season once – back in 2001-02, when he played in 66 for Pittsburgh. And the Swede has only played in 20 NHL playoff games, 18 of which were for the Penguins in 2001.

    But Hedberg has put up a 2.45 goals against average (compared to Brodeur's 2.83), a .909 save percentage (compared to Brodeur's .895) and won 12 games in his 21 appearances (compared to 14 in 29 for Brodeur).

    Hedberg may be the backup in title, but he is pushing the limits of that role in terms of playing time and performance, starting at least one game a week over the past month.

    Hedberg is also tied for second in the NHL with five shootout wins. Johan HedbergAnd the shootout has become a hallmark for New Jersey, which owns a 8-1 record in the game-deciding skills competition this year.

    Assuming current trends keep up – and assuming the Devils, who sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, make the playoffs – coach Pete DeBoer may have a tough decision about who he wants to start in the postseason. DeBoer, however, is in his first year in New Jersey. Brodeur is in his 19th.

    Further complicating the politics of the situation is each player's status for next season, given the fact that both are pushing 40. Brodeur has publicly stated that he plans to return for 2012-13. Hedberg, meanwhile told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger that his future is still up in the air.

    "My goal, first of all, is to finish as good as possible and then re-evaluate," Hedberg said. "The thought of retiring hasn't take over my world. Let's put it that way."

    This off season, for the first time in recent memory, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello may have to make a difficult decision about the Devils' starting goaltender.

    Notes

    The Rangers should be considered among the favorites to win the 2012 Stanley Cup. Or so their owner thinks. Cablevision CEO and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan declared the team "pretty close" to a championship during an impromptu press conference after his team beat Nashville 3-0 on Tuesday. According to beat writer Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record, it was first time Dolan had addressed the Ranger media corps since 2005-06. Minutes after the owner's declaration, coach John Tortorella declared it to be "bullsh*t," given that the regular season was barely halfway finished. ...The Islanders' 4-1 victory over the Flyers on Thursday night snapped the team's 13-game losing streak in Philadelphia. New York's last win at the Flyers came in April 2007. ... Flyers RW Jaromir Jagr is in the middle of a one-year contract, and on Friday he told reporters he would like to return to Philadelphia for another year. ... Penguins D Kris Letang returned to action for his team's 4-1 win against the Rangers in New York. Letang missed 21 games but still played more than 24 minutes in his return.

    Photos by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Saturday, 21 January 2012 01:21