When Martin Brodeur's weight fell on his right knee, the weight of the Devils' preposterous playoff dream fell straight onto Johan Hedberg's shoulders.

They're not being coy about it any more. The Devils are trying to make history, shooting to qualify for a 14th straight postseason after languishing 27 points out of playoff position a month ago.

For now, they will have to rely on Hedberg in net, starting tonight in Newark when they open a series of three showdowns in 12 nights with the Hurricanes.

"It's a golden opportunity for all of us to make something great happen," Hedberg told The Post yesterday. "It's something positive for us, a goal to shoot for. And it's going to take our best effort every night."

Brodeur was to undergo an MRI exam yesterday on the knee, which he injured in Sunday's 4-1 victory in Montreal. Hedberg played the final two periods of that game, and though Brodeur downplayed the injury, his characterization of a "twinge" indicates possible structural damage, to either a ligament or cartilage, rather than a bruise.

"I don't think we'll have him, but I have no news . . . on how long," coach Jacques Lemaire said.

The Devils have climbed out of the NHL cellar on the strength of a 9-1-2 run, but will have to go 23-6 to reach 88 points, the fewest amassed by a playoff team in the shootout era. They are 16 points behind the Hurricanes, who are in position for the last Eastern Conference playoff berth. No team has made the playoffs from more than 12 points back since 1994.