The New Jersey Devils are on the verge of playing themselves out of the playoff race, closing in on the longest losing streak in franchise history and still missing their best forward.
By comparison, the Ottawa Senators are doing just fine.
In danger of missing the postseason for only the second time since 1996, the Devils hope to put the brakes on an eight-game skid Friday night when the Senators visit.
A participant in 15 of the last 16 playoffs, New Jersey has some ground to make up - and quickly - if it plans to be part of the postseason this year. Eight straight losses (0-4-4) have dropped the Devils into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the eighth-place tie between Winnipeg and the Rangers with eight games remaining.
The slide continued Wednesday at home against Boston, which scored three first-period goals and finished with two short-handed in a 5-4 victory. The Devils (15-15-10) were unable to come all the way back from a 4-0 deficit and tied the second-longest losing streak in team history, two shy of the record set Oct. 14-Nov. 4, 1983.
“You know the spot you are in,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “You have two choices. You roll over and die or you get up tomorrow and find a way to turn one win into six or seven or whatever it is going to take.”
Ilya Kovalchuk’s return would provide DeBoer’s club with a much-needed lift, but the star forward said he won’t be back until his injured shoulder feels comfortable. Kovalchuk was injured March 23 against Florida and the Devils have lost all eight games since, totaling 16 goals.
“I just want to feel comfortable out there and do whatever I do best,” said Kovalchuk, who plays on the top line, kills penalties and mans the point on the power play. “I just don’t want to go in the lineup and take somebody’s place and just be out there because I want to be there.”
New Jersey could be down two defensemen if captain Bryce Salvador sits out. He was hit on the wrist by a shot from Boston’s Zdeno Chara and is day to day, though DeBoer said he has a significant bruise.
Ottawa (20-14-6) ended a season-high five-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday. Colin Greening snapped a late third-period tie and Robin Lehner made 24 saves for the Senators, who had dropped the first four contests on a seven-game trip.
With their first win since March 28, the Senators remained tied with the Islanders for sixth in the conference with a game in hand.
“We’re sitting in a playoff spot, but we can’t keep losing,” Lehner said. “We have to start getting some points and try to get in with some momentum. I think this is a good start.”
The Senators scored three goals - the last into an empty net - for the first time since that last win. They are 16-2-1 when scoring at least three and 4-12-5 when held to two or fewer.
Craig Anderson is expected to be back in net after Lehner beat the Flyers. Anderson has lost both starts since returning after missing 18 games with an ankle injury. He is 4-1-0 with a 1.78 goals-against average in his last five starts against New Jersey.
The Senators have won both meetings with the Devils this season in shootouts.
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