The New Jersey Devils are returning to the playoffs, and they're playing like they could do some damage once the postseason begins.
New Jersey (45-28-6) failed to reach the postseason last year, ending a franchise-record streak of 13 consecutive seasons in the playoffs.
On Saturday, Kovalchuk and the Devils officially avoided a similar fate in 2011-12, as the All-Star left wing got three points in a 5-0 thumping of Carolina to clinch a playoff spot with a third straight win.
"It's step one," first-year coach Peter DeBoer said. "Now that we're in, you obviously want to make some noise. That's where we go from here."
Seeding is still undecided as New Jersey is sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-place Ottawa with three games remaining. The sixth seed would give the Devils a first-round matchup with the Southeast Division winner - Florida currently leads the Southeast.
New Jersey can clinch the No. 6 spot Tuesday with a win over the Islanders (33-35-11) coupled with a Senators loss to Carolina.
Kovalchuk is surging down the stretch, with two goals and three assists in his last two games. He had nine goals and 11 assists in 17 contests last month, including his second hat trick of the season in a 5-1 victory over New York at Prudential Center on March 8. He had an assist against the Islanders two days later as the Devils swept a home-and-home set by scoring twice in the final 1:39 of a 2-1 win.
Kovalchuk has 19 points in 15 games against the Islanders since joining the Devils, and that includes seven in the past three matchups in Newark.
New Jersey has won nine of its last 11 home meetings with the Isles.
Johan Hedberg is expected to be in net for the Devils while DeBoer rests Martin Brodeur, who had 22 saves Saturday in his 119th career shutout, extending his NHL record.
Hedberg has won his last three starts, including shutouts of Washington and Ottawa. The other victory was a 23-save effort in the March 10 win over the Islanders.
While the Devils are preparing for the playoffs, New York has clinched a fifth consecutive last-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
The Islanders looked like a last-place club over the weekend, losing home games to Ottawa and Boston by a combined 11-4 margin.
"There was no urgency in our game," coach Jack Capuano said after Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Senators.
John Tavares has five goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, a stretch that started with a goal against the Devils on March 10. However, that's his only point in his last six meetings with the Devils, and he hasn't managed any in three visits to Prudential Center.
Kyle Okposo will try to get back on the scoresheet after his five-game goal-scoring streak came to an end against the Senators. The right wing had six goals in that stretch, giving him a career high of 21.
Okposo hasn't scored in the Islanders' last seven games in Newark, six of them losses.
- New York Islanders
- Ilya Kovalchuk