New Jersey (33-34-4) at Columbus (33-28-10)

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Senior Writer Saturday, Mar 19, 2011 Puck Drop: 5:00 pm EDT Sun Mar 20, 2011

The New Jersey Devils knew their playoff push was unlikely given how far they had fallen out of contention. It’s gotten a lot tougher now that they have suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in over two months.

The Devils look to get back on track when they begin a four-game road trip Sunday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

New Jersey (33-34-4) was at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 22 points after a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 8 marked the end of a four-game skid. The Devils have been the best team in the NHL since with a league-high 48 points, although their pursuit of a playoff spot has stalled with a 3-1 loss to Ottawa on Thursday and a 3-0 loss to Washington on Friday.

New Jersey, which is in 12th place in the East, outshot the Senators 34-25 and the Capitals 33-12.

“We knew it was not going to be easy,” goalie Martin Brodeur(notes) said. “This is the adversity we are facing right now and we need to get back on track. We have to do it quickly because we don’t have much time left.”

Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) has been one of the catalysts to the surge with 16 goals and 14 assists since Jan. 9. He’s been held without a point in the consecutive losses, however.

“It’s back-to-back losses and puts a damper on things,” Brodeur said. “We have to regroup. Nobody else is going to help us, so we have to do it ourselves.”

Columbus (33-28-10) also has slim playoff hopes, sitting 12th in the West with 76 points. The Blue Jackets are 0-2-2 in their last four home games.

Captain Rick Nash(notes) has no goals in his last five at home, but he ended an 11-game overall drought without one in a 5-4 overtime victory at Minnesota on Saturday. Nash had two goals and two assists, scoring for the first time since Feb. 22 after a dry spell that matched the longest of his career.

“It just seems like it was going in today,” Nash said. “I’ve been getting a ton of chances. I’ve been hitting some posts and hitting some chests of the goalies, but tonight it went in.”

Antoine Vermette(notes) scored the winning goal with 33.5 seconds left in overtime after Columbus allowed two goals in the final 5:07 of regulation.

“You know that it was two teams that were desperate for two points and were going to throw everything at each other,” coach Scott Arniel said. “That’s probably what opened things up a little bit.”

The Blue Jackets also got an unlikely boost from defenseman Sami Lepisto(notes), who had a career-high three assists to end a 14-game run without a point.

Mathieu Garon(notes) made 32 saves for Columbus. He’s 1-1 with one tie and a 1.58 goals-against average in three starts against the Devils while Steve Mason(notes) is 0-2-0 with a 4.03 GAA in his two.

New Jersey has won three straight against Columbus to take a 6-2-1 lead in the series with one tie. Brodeur has started nine of those games, posting a 2.41 GAA.

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Sunday, Mar 20