With their playoff hopes dashed, it would seem the New Jersey Devils (36-37-5) have little left to play for this season.
Just don’t tell the Devils that.
New Jersey heads into tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-8) looking for yet another opportunity to reach the NHL-.500 mark. While it’s an insignificant mark most seasons, it’s a point of achievement for these Devils.
“We have to win hockey games, that’s our job,” Brian Rolston told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. “Is it a letdown to play these last four games and not being in the playoffs? Absolutely it is. I think we’re human. But at the same time, we have to continue to win hockey games.”
If the team can win just two of their remaining four games, they’d finish at NHL-.500. New Jersey hasn’t spent much time with a winning record this season. They’ve only held a NHL.-500 record or better for nine total days, an extremely low number for the perennial playoff contenders.
But with little left to play for, and Jacques Lemaire searching for ways to keep his team motivated, fighting for the NHL-.500 record could keep his team motivated. That could help prevent a letdown in the final games of the season.
“Oh yeah, it always crosses your mind that maybe there’s a letdown (with the playoffs out of reach), but this is our job to get the players as ready as possible and the players’ job is to play,” Lemaire told Chere. “If we all do our job, we’ll be fine.”
The Devils have a chance to even their record tonight against their division rival Pens. Pittsburgh sits fourth in the Eastern Conference, holding a one point lead over the fifth place Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve had success over New Jersey this year, going 3-1-1 against them this season.
Offense figures to be at a premium, as the two teams combined for just 12 goals in their five games. In the last meeting, neither the Devils or Penguins could score during regulation or overtime. Martin Brodeur stopped 26 shots and Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves to send the game to a shootout. James Neal scored the game-winning goal, beating Brodeur with a high shot to lead Pittsburgh to a 1-0 win.
New Jersey has yet to win at the CONSOL Energy Center, losing both games on the road this season. The Penguins are 24-14-2 at home this season.
Despite not chasing a playoff spot, the Devils will conduct business as usual in the last four games.
That could lead them to an improbable winning record.
“Same approach,” Ilya Kovalchuk told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “Just win as many games as we can.”