The New Jersey Devils (34-36-4) playoff miracle may be coming to an end sooner than anyone expected.
New Jersey, who rose from the league basement to playoff contender with a 23-3-2 run between January 9 and March 15, still sit ten points behind the Buffalo Sabres (37-28-9) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A win tonight against those Sabres may keep whatever slim playoff hopes the Devils have alive.
The Devils are 5-0-2 in their last seven road games against Buffalo. They haven’t suffered a regulation loss at HSBC Arena since March 28, 2007.
A recent 1-3-1 slide pushed the Devils to the brink of playoff elimination. Their offense has virtually disappeared, recalling their early season struggles. They’ve been shut out in two of of their past five games, managing just five goals in during that time.
New Jersey’s offensive struggles continued during last night’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils managed just one shot during the first period, a Brian Rolston slapshot near the 10 minute mark. The team failed to put pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury, recording just 21 shots through regulation and overtime.
The Pens goalie then stopped Rolston, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias in the shootout for his 19th career shutout.
The Devils knew last night’s effort wasn’t enough.
“We tried to play desperate tonight and we didn’t muster enough offensively,” Rolston told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “You’re playing playoff games basically from here on in and it’s been like that for the last how many games? And we’ve come up with those critical goals at critical times. What got us over the hump was maybe getting that power-play goal or something like that and that hasn’t been there for us.”
New Jersey faces yet another stiff test against Ryan Miller. The Sabres goalie is 2-0-1 in three starts against the Devils, allowing just one goal in each game.
Martin Brodeur, who did not participate in today’s morning skate, will probably start for the Devils. Brodeur has shutouts in two of his last three starts and six on the season.
The Sabres took two of this season’s three meetings. They’ve outscored the Devils, 11-5, during the season series. Kovalchuk helped New Jersey beat Buffalo on October 13, blasting a one-timer past Miller a minute into overtime for the game-winning goal.