Though the New Jersey Devils still face an uphill challenge to make the playoffs, they aren’t giving up hope.
The surging Devils try for a fourth consecutive victory when they visit the improved New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon.
New Jersey (29-31-4) is a remarkable 19-2-2 since Jan. 9, but thanks to a disappointing start is 12th in the Eastern Conference and nine points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot with 18 games remaining.
“(We) just want to get in somehow and make these last 18 games really important,” Martin Brodeur(notes) told the Devils’ official website. “We knew we were so far back and now we got ourselves into a really good position for where we were at before, and try to take advantage of it, see if we can mess up anybody.”
The Devils also don’t want to allow a team like New York (25-32-9) to pass them in the standings and become another hurdle they must clear during their playoff push. The Islanders are three points behind New Jersey.
After losing the first two meetings with the Islanders this season, New Jersey won 5-2 at New York on Jan. 17. It was the Devils’ second win in their last seven trips to Long Island.
Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) had a goal in that contest and scored on the power play with 24.9 seconds left in overtime to give New Jersey a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday. New Jersey’s last five games have been decided by one goal with the last four by 2-1 margins.
“We’re playing our game right now,” said forward Travis Zajac(notes), who also scored Friday. “The games are getting tougher and closer, because we’re not getting the same scoring chances that we got when we started the run. So we have to make the most of the chances we’re getting. We’re still behind the pack right now and we have to keep fighting.”
Friday’s goal was the second straight winner for Kovalchuk, who his six in the last 12 games and nine on the season.
“I think the team is finding me in key situations,” said Kovalchuk, who has nine goals and eight assists his last 15 games. “I think every hockey player wants to be in that kind of situation.”
Brodeur is 1-1-0 with a 3.51 goals-against average versus New York this season, but has allowed six goals on 122 shots while winning six straight games overall.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald(notes) scored twice as New York won for the second straight time and improved to 8-3-2 in its last 13 games. MacDonald who had three career goals coming into Saturday’s contest, matched his season total against the Blues.
“He’s been a guy we can rely on back there,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of MacDonald, who is known more his defense despite having a career-high 21 assists in his second season of extensive action.
The Islanders are 21-21-6 since Capuano replaced the fired Scott Gordon on Nov. 15.