It’s a goal completely unfamiliar to the New Jersey Devils (30-31-4) over the past 14 seasons – shooting for a NHL .500 record near the end of the season.
That achievement, and its significance to their playoff chances, isn’t lost on the Devils.
“First of all, you have to get to .500 before you even think about making the playoffs because nobody under .500 makes it,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “You want to play close to .600.”
New Jersey will look to be a NHL .500 for the first time this season as they face the Ottawa Senators (22-34-9) tonight at the Prudential Center.
The Devils, continuing their torrid second half run, have pulled within one game of NHL .500 for the first time since a 4-3 overtime loss opening night put their record at 0-0-1. With their record at a measly 10-29-2 on January 8, the Devils reeled off 20 wins in their next 24 games, bringing them close to the mark.
Lemaire considers the milestone an important one.
“Good, that’s what we were looking for a long time ago,” he told Gulitti. “We thought that it was impossible, but maybe now it could be a thing possible.”
New Jersey will have their chance against a struggling Senators team. Ottawa came out hot after the All-Star break, going 8-6-1 in 15 games. But they once again struggled, prompting a fire sale of players. A 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday helped push the Senators into the league basement, one point behind the Edmonton Oilers.
The Devils, meanwhile, continued their second-half surge Sunday, defeating the New York Islanders 2-1 for their fourth straight win. The teams traded goals in the second period, entering the final frame tied at one. Ilya Kovalchuk scored at 2:52 of the third period, but New Jersey couldn’t hold the lead. Blake Comeau converted on a turnover in the Devils zone, tying the game at two. The two teams battled to a shootout, where Brian Rolston beat Al Montaya for the win.
Ottawa hasn’t fared well in New Jersey, losing their last six games in the Garden State. The most recent came February 1, when the Devils defeated the Senators, 2-1. Dainius Zubrus recorded the game-winner, deflecting a puck off of a Senators defenseman and over the shoulder of goalie Robin Lehner.
Despite the increased talk of their miraculous push to the playoffs, the Devils know they need to reach .500 before thinking about the postseason.
“Our first thing was that if you want to make the playoffs, you need to be a .500 team,” goaltender Martin Brodeur told Gulitti. “So it’s kind of nice to be able to have the opportunity because we were so far behind at one point.”
Other Important Games
There are two games on the schedule that can directly impact the Devils tonight. With a win, New Jersey would jump the idle Atlanta Thrashers for 11th in the Eastern Conference. The games which affect point differences are:
Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders – The Maple Leafs sit 10th in the conference, three points ahead of the Devils.
Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins - The Sabres, who took over the eighth seed in the conference, sit eight points ahead of New Jersey.