The New Jersey Devils need healthy defensemen heading into the playoffs.
The struggling Devils will try to solidify their spot in the Eastern Conference standings when they host the hapless Chicago Blackhawks.
New Jersey traded for forwards Victor Kozlov and Jan Hrdina before Tuesday’s trade deadline, but the defending Stanley Cup Champions were unable to nab a stay-at-home defenseman, something they desperately need because of the questionable status of captain Scott Stevens.
Stevens, out since Jan. 7, has missed 30 games with post-concussion syndrome and may not return this season.
New Jersey was dealt another blow to its defense on Tuesday. Brian Rafalski did not play in the final two periods after aggravating a bruise behind the back of his right knee.
The Devils have won just two of their last seven (2-4-0-1) and trail Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia by seven points with 13 games remaining. Even more alarming, the Devils are just one point ahead of the hard-charging Montreal Canadiens in the race for sixth place in the conference.
New Jersey coach Pat Burns said the loss put a serious dent in the Devils’ chances to win the division.
“We’re not throwing in the towel, but if you win tonight’s it’s a different situation,” Burns said.
The good news for the Devils is they have a favorable schedule over their next four games. After playing the Blackhawks, they have a rematch with the Flyers on Saturday before games against the lowly New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blackhawks are winless in their last six (0-3-2-1) and have only two wins over their last 11.
Chicago, which has long been out of the Western playoff race, traded away forwards Steve Sullivan and Alexei Zhamnov long before the deadline and sent defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Chicago winger Eric Daze scored with 8:36 left in the third period to send the game to overtime. Daze has two goals in two games after missing nearly the entire season while recovering from back surgery in October.
STANDINGS (through March 9): Blackhawks - 51 points, 5th place, 39 PB, Central Division. Devils - 83 points, 2nd place, 7 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Blackhawks - Kyle Calder, 21 goals; Bryan Berard, 26 assists; Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason, 41 points; Scott Nichol, 114 PIM. Devils - Patrik Elias, 31 goals and 63 points; Scott Gomez, 45 assists; Colin White, 81 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 9): Blackhawks - Power play: 14.1 percent (43 for 305), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (269 for 317), 8th. Devils - Power play: 15.6 percent (217 for 257), 19th (tied). Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (198 for 233), 7th.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 0-0-1.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blackhawks - 6-23-4-1 on the road; Devils - 18-12-4-1 at home.