The New Jersey Devils (36-38-5) aren’t used to just playing out a regular season. The Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-11) are all-too familiar with the feeling. Both teams meet tonight with little more than pride on the line at the Prudential Center.
The Devils furious second-half charge couldn’t push them into the playoffs. After starting the season 10-29-2, interim coach Jacques Lemaire led the team back to respectability. A 23-3-2 run between January 9 and March 15 brought New Jersey within six points of a playoff spot.
That would be the closest they would get, as a recent 1-4-1 slide pushed them back down the standings and out of the race. A 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Saturday officially eliminated the Devils from playoff contention. It’s the first time since the 1995-96 season that they will miss the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record sixth straight season. Despite an 18-7-6 run in their last 31 games, they couldn’t move into the playoffs. Their postseason push ended last night, when the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning.
New Jersey dropped its second straight game Tuesday, 4-2, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pascal Dupuis recorded two goals, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots for the win. The Devils failed to win a game at the CONSOL Energy Center this season, going 0-2-1 at the Penguins new home arena.
Johan Hedberg, who allowed four goals on 27 shots, wasn’t pleased with his performance.
“I don’t think I played that well,” Hedberg told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “I made some bad decisions and didn’t really find my groove of playing.
“I felt like I was not reading the plays as well. I was not playing as patient as I was hoping I would. Why I didn’t do that, I’m not sure. I made some bad decisions and that cost me and the team I think. I have to find a way to read the plays better.”
The loss pushed the Devils to the brink of a losing season. If they fail to win two of their remaining three games, New Jersey will finish with a sub-.500 record for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
Martin Brodeur will likely start tonight. In his last five starts against the Maple Leafs, he’s 1-3-1 despite a 1.81 goals-against average.
Toronto has gone 7-3-1 in their last 11 meetings against the Devils, and leads the four-game season series 2-0-1.