Sitting nine points out of a playoff spot isn’t the ideal position for the New Jersey Devils (34-35-4). To continue to stay playoff relevant, the Devils need to win their remaining nine games.
That challenge begins tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins (43-23-8) tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center.
If New Jersey can win their remaining nine games, they’d finish the season with 91 points. Last year, both the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs with 88 points. That won’t stay the same this season, as the Sabres already have 81 points and sit eighth in the conference.
The Devils — currently sitting in 12th — need to pass four teams in their remaining games. It’s a tough task, but left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk believes the team will make a run.
“Everybody has to step up because hockey is not an individual sport,” Kovalchuk told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. “Especially these days. Everybody skates well and everybody is watching videos. It’s really tough to do anything by yourself.”
New Jersey’s push for the playoffs hit a rough patch recently, with the team going 1-3-0 in their past four games. Opponents outscored the Devils, 11-4, highlighting their offensive struggles.
Every Devils loss seems to be followed by a win from a team ahead of them. In their most recent loss, a 4-1 defeat to the Boston Bruins, every team New Jersey is chasing won their game. That left most of the players especially disheartened.
“That’s what happens when you get in that situation,” Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “But I think guys were a little more down after the game (Tuesday) than they were today. You take a step back and you look at the situation, you look at the guys and what needs to be done. It is what it is. We have to try to come through here. We have to go game by game and try to win the next one and we’ll move on.
“It’s not going to be easy. There’s no doubt about that.”
The road doesn’t get any easier tonight against the Penguins. The division rivals split four meetings this season, with New Jersey skating away with a 2-1 overtime victory March 4. Kovalchuk played hero, scoring with 25 seconds left in the extra period for the win. Despite missing star Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh sits just four points behind the Flyers for the Eastern Conference lead.
Brodeur will start his 13th straight game tonight. He’s 2-1-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average in three games against the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleurywill start for Pittsburgh.
Despite the long odds, the Devils’ players still believe they will make the playoffs.
“Knowing this group, absolutely,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told Chere. ”Let me put it to you this way: I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.”
Parise Practices, Won’t Play
The Devils welcomed back injured left-winger Zach Parise to practice yesterday, but won’t have him for tonight’s game against the Penguins.
Parise, who hasn’t played since tearing his meniscus on October 30, participated in two full practices. Although he traveled with the team, he seems to be targeting Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders as his return date.
The left-winger participated in practice today, battling for pucks in the corner and facing more physical play. He believes practices like that will ultimately prepare him for a comeback.
“I still need those practices with the contact,” he told Gulitti. “Even today you get so much more winded. I think that’s our next step, to keep doing that and I should be ready.”