Bottom Feeders Battle at the Rock
The New Jersey Devils (34-36-5) finally return home to the Prudential Center after dropping three of four games during a bitterly disappointing road trip.
The Devils are now 12 points behind the Buffalo Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East with only seven games left to play. The most the Devils can finish with is 87 points. The Sabres already have 85 points.
New Jersey squares off against fellow NHL cellar dweller the New York Islanders (29-35-12) on Wednesday in hopes of getting back in the win column.
With a handful of games left on the schedule and little left to play for but pride, the Devils find themselves in unfamiliar waters. New Jersey is an organization built with a winning tradition; the only goal every season is to win the Stanley Cup. Missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season will be sure to leave a bitter taste in everybody's mouths. For the longest-tenured Devil, Martin Brodeur, this will be just the second time in his illustrious career that he will be sitting out of the NHL's quest for the Cup.
Despite their impending elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 15 years, the Devils are determined to finish the season strong.
“We’ve all got pride, we’re all professionals, we have to fight through that,” Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. “It doesn’t mattter. We’ve still got chances. We’ve go to go and work. It’s not an excuse.”
New Jersey enters the game with the Islanders on a consecutive scoreless minutes streak of 173:55; including being shut out in back-to-back games at Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Their longest previous streak without a goal was 159:18 back in 2008.
However, the Islanders just may be the ideal team to help them break their scoreless drought. The Devils have scored 3 or more in each of the last three meetings between these two clubs. New Jersey won all three.
New York is having some trouble bending the twine themselves. They have lost two in a row, scoring just two goals in that span. A 4-1 loss on Saturday to the East's top team, the Philadelphia Flyers, coupled with Buffalo's' victory over the Florida Panthers, mathematically eliminated them from the playoffs.
The Devils and Islanders have had similar seasons in many ways. Both teams had terrible starts and both teams put together impressive second half runs. Now, both teams hope a strong finish will give them something to build on for the future.
This will be the sixth and final meeting of the season; New Jersey holds a 3-2 edge in the season series.
New Jersey defensemen Colin White and Anton Volchenkov were both injured in Saturdays loss to the Sabres. Both sat out of Monday's practice. They are out with what the Devils are calling "lower body" injuries.
Kovalchuk was also hurt when he was hit by a Thomas Vanek slap shot during the second period of the same game. He stayed in the game and then had an X-ray afterward. The X-rays were negative and his status is still questionable.
One last note, injured winger Zach Parise skated again Monday with the team but no decision has been made whether his will play against the Islanders. Parise has been out since surgery in early November repaired a torn meniscus in his knee.
Last 10: Devils 4-5-1; Islanders 4-3-3
New Jersey: Parise (knee) Salvador (concussion) Corrente (foot) Taormina (foot) White (lower body) Volchenkov (lower body)
New York: Streit, Mottau, Hunter, Weight, Eaton, Poulin
Steve's Spin: The Devils really need to buckle down and try to finish the season over .500. If they can manage to forget about missing the playoffs and get back to playing Devils hockey, this season should be just a blip on the franchise's radar.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.
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