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Senators, Devils go for clinchers

OTTAWA, April 17 (UPI) -- The Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils can become the first Eastern Conference teams to advance in the NHL playoffs Thursday.

After losing the series opener, the top-seeded Senators have won three straight, and can close out the New York Islanders with a home-ice win Thursday in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

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The Devils won the first three games of their best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins before losing on Tuesday, but, like the Senators, can clinch their East quarterfinal series at home Thursday night.

The top-seeded Dallas Stars needed to beat Edmonton Tuesday to even their Western Conference quarterfinal series at two games apiece. The Stars will host the Oilers in the only West series scheduled on Thursday.

The Senators won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points, and have allowed just three goals in the last three games after losing the series opener to the Islanders, 3-0.

Mike Fisher scored just 28 seconds into the game, and defenseman Anton Volchenkov scored 3:44 later in the Senators' 3-1 win at New York on Wednesday.

Marian Hossa added a goal and an assist to help Ottawa close in on its second straight trip to the conference semifinals.

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Islanders captain Michael Peca has not scored in his last 24 games, dating back to a two-goal effort against Boston on Feb. 23, but believes a trip to Ottawa less than 24 hours after the loss in Game Four will be beneficial for his team.

"I think there is less pressure playing on the road," Peca said. "I don't remember losing an elimination game on the road."

If the Islanders win Thursday, the teams would have two days off before the series returns to Long Island for Game Six Sunday afternoon.

New Jersey's Martin Brodeur stopped 82 of 85 shots in the first three games of the series, but gave up five goals on 24 shots before exiting early in the third period as the Bruins averted a sweep with a 5-1 victory on Tuesday.

It was New Jersey's worst playoff loss since a 5-0 loss to Colorado in Game One of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals. Brodeur has a history of rebounding from shaky playoff performances.

Following that loss to Colorado, he made 19 saves in a 2-1 Game Two win. After a 4-3 loss in Game Four of the 1997 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Montreal, he made 24 saves in a shutout of the Canadiens.

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Bruins captain Joe Thornton had been held to two assists in the first three games, but scored his first goal of the series with 13 seconds left in the first period on Tuesday. He has been shadowed by John Madden and Jay Pandolfo, two of the Devils' top checking forwards.

If the Bruins win Thursday, Game Six is scheduled for Saturday at Boston.

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