With both teams eliminated from postseason contention, the Devils and Maple Leafs can only battle for pride Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.
Despite a remarkable second-half run, New Jersey failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1996. A miserable start doomed the Devils (36-38-5), who were 27 points out of a postseason spot in early January before getting back in contention with a 23-3-2 burst from Jan. 9-March 15.
A recent 1-4-1 slide signaled the end of New Jersey’s playoff charge and a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday officially ended its postseason streak.
The Devils lost their second straight Tuesday, 4-2 at Pittsburgh, and will now try to avoid their first three-game skid since dropping four in a row Jan. 1-8.
“We battled back,” goaltender Johan Hedberg(notes) said. “We came back to 3-2 and had a chance to tie it up with a power play at the end. It didn’t happen. With three games to go here; we’ve got to keep going and be a proud bunch of hockey players.”
Left wing Zach Parise(notes) sat out Tuesday after playing Saturday for the first time since November surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The team is taking a cautious approach with Parise, a four-time 30-goal scorer who could return for this game.
Martin Brodeur(notes) figures to be in net against Toronto (37-32-11) after backing up Hedberg against the Penguins. Brodeur has gone 1-3-1 in his last five starts despite a 1.81 goals-against average in that span.
He wasn’t nearly that good in his most recent five starts against the Maple Leafs, posting a 3.50 GAA while going 3-3-1. Toronto has gone 7-1-3 in the last 11 meetings with New Jersey and 2-0-1 this season.
A strong second half also wasn’t enough to get the Leafs into the playoffs. Their postseason push ended Tuesday when Buffalo beat Tampa Bay, a short time before Toronto had a three-game win streak snapped with a 3-2 shootout loss to Washington.
Although the Maple Leafs have gone 18-7-6 in their last 31, they will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record sixth straight season.
“It was unfortunate we put ourselves in the predicament we did where we had to run the table,” rookie goaltender James Reimer(notes) said. “We played our hearts out, we did everything we could. We’ve fallen short right now but I’m proud of the way we battled for the last couple months, especially today too.”
Reimer stopped 39 shots Tuesday, while Kessel, who reached 30 goals for the third consecutive season, had an assist to extend his point streak to eight games.
Reimer made 37 saves in a 2-1 overtime home loss to the Devils on Feb. 10.