The New Jersey Devils enter their final meeting against the rival New York Islanders in a precarious positions.
New Jersey sits just four points ahead of the eighth place New York Rangers and ninth place Islanders with 13 games remaining in the regular season. The Devils have lost three straight games, all in overtime or the shootout, a streak that’s keeping those lower teams close.
New Jersey has the opportunity to put a dent in the Isles playoff hopes as the two rivals meet for the fifth time this season at the Prudential Center.
The Devils are 2-1-1 against the Islanders this season despite being outscored, 11-10. The trio of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes posted 16 points in those four games. Tavares recorded a hat trick in the most recent game, a 5-1 Islanders win on February 16 at Nassau Coliseum. He leads all skaters with five goals and seven points. Moulson leads all skaters with four assists.
Steve Bernier leads New Jersey with three goals against New York. Stephen Gionta has a team-high three assists.
Martin Brodeur, who will start his sixth straight game tonight, is 1-0-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .889 save percentage against the Islanders this season.
Evgeni Nabokov is 2-2-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .923 save percentage against the Devils.
The Devils will play its third game in four nights tonight, returning from a frustrating three-game road trip. New Jersey failed to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers in back-to-back contests, allowing last minute goals in the third period. They lost both of those games, earning just one point.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not able to close out games,” Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record after Saturday’s loss. “Both times we were less than 30 seconds (away) and we can’t get it done. After that we don’t win in overtime or shootouts. It’s disappointing, but we keep getting points and that’s the only thing positive about it.”
The Islanders have won three of its last four games to surge into the playoff picture. New York lost its most recent game, 2-0, to the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday. James Neal and Matt Cooke broke a scoreless tie in the third period to pull ahead of the Isles. Nabokov made 25 saves in the loss.
Injured forward Dainius Zubrus will return to the lineup for the Devils tonight. He’s been out since February 5 after partially tearing a ligament in his wrist.
“I just think the time of year, the shortened schedule, the situation,” DeBoer told Gulitti. “He had a practice yesterday, a contact practice with the guys we skated yesterday. So, it’s not like he’s checking himself out of the hospital and playing tonight. He’ll be ready to go.”
He’ll skate on a line with Adam Henrique and Matt D’Agostini. In 69 games against the Islanders, Zubrus has 29 points (9g, 20a).
“I’ve progressed a lot since my doctor gave me the OK to push as much as I can,” Zubrus told Gulitti. “I think I’m at the stage where I’m not going to get maybe completely 100 percent for a few months, so it’s good, it’s strong and definitely strong enough to be in a game and that’s what I’ll be doing.”