Blackhawks-Devils Preview


The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks are in sixth place in their respective conferences, which seemingly sets up favorable first-round playoff matchups.

Neither team wants to look too far ahead, however, as they're simply focused on building momentum heading into the postseason.

The Devils try to break out of their recent funk Tuesday night when they host a Blackhawks team coming off its worst defeat in four months.

If New Jersey (42-28-6) can hold onto sixth place in the Eastern Conference it will likely face the Southeast Division winner, which will probably be Florida or Washington.

Chicago (42-26-8) is also in position to face its conference's weakest division winner with Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose the possible candidates to take the Pacific. The Blackhawks could possibly move into fourth or fifth place in the West but seem unlikely to drop from sixth.

The Devils aren't in great shape to improve their seeding for the playoffs but certainly can fall, especially with the way they've been playing lately.

New Jersey dropped to 1-3-1 in its last five games with Monday's 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. It has surrendered at least four goals in each of those defeats.

"You want to get into the playoffs as soon as possible and you want to get in feeling good about yourself and not just dogging it in," said Martin Brodeur, who has a 3.95 goals-against average in losing his last four starts.

Unlike the Devils, the Blackhawks have been playing well recently - their last game notwithstanding.

Chicago had won five in a row before suffering a 6-1 loss to Nashville on Sunday, its most lopsided defeat since falling 9-2 in Edmonton on Nov. 19.

The Blackhawks, 9-2-1 in their last 12, were without captain Jonathan Toews for a 16th straight game because of a concussion and 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who served the first of a five-game suspension for elbowing Daniel Sedin in the head in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win over Vancouver.

"We've been without some key guys before, so I don't think that's an excuse," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "It doesn't really matter who's playing, we've got to do a better effort out there. That's what it's all about."

Viktor Stalberg scored for Chicago on Sunday, giving him three goals and four assists in his last seven games. He had one goal in his previous 15 contests.

Corey Crawford had seen a turnaround in his play before being replaced by Ray Emery two minutes into the third period against the Predators. Crawford allowed four goals on 15 shots after yielding five total goals in winning each of Chicago's previous five games.

"That wasn't our team. That wasn't me," Crawford said. "Just got to forget about it plain and simple."

That could be difficult, however, as Crawford has had a tendency to let bad performances linger. Since Jan. 21, he has a 1.14 GAA in his nine victories but is 0-7-1 with a 4.84 GAA in his other nine games.

Whoever is in net for Chicago will be facing a Devils team that has scored two goals or fewer in six of seven games.

Some of New Jersey's most dangerous scorers have been heating up, though. Ilya Kovalchuk, who has a team-high 32 goals, has scored in two of the last three games while Zach Parise, who has 30 goals, has scored in each of the past two.

This is the teams' first meeting since New Jersey's 5-3 win in Chicago on Nov. 3, 2010.