Maple Leafs-Devils Preview

The Associated Press

The New Jersey Devils are all but assured a spot in the postseason, though they're trying to shake off their recent offensive woes before the playoffs.

They have a good chance of breaking out against a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has struggled defensively of late.

New Jersey seeks its fifth victory in the last six meetings with Toronto when the teams face off Friday night at the Prudential Center.

The Devils (42-27-5) sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and are poised to return to the postseason after missing out last season for the first time since 1996.

New Jersey, though, had lost three of its previous four games before a 1-0 victory at Ottawa on Tuesday.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 400th career goal to account for the only offense. The Devils have scored two goals or fewer in each of their last five games, with both of their victories in that stretch coming by 1-0 scores - including a shootout win over Colorado on March 15.

New Jersey outscored its opponents 15-4 during a four-game winning streak March 6-11.

"We've just got to stick with it," coach Peter DeBoer said. "It hasn't been that long ago where we had a good run of scoring goals. We're finding ways to win games despite the lack of scoring."

Opponents haven't had much trouble scoring against the Maple Leafs in their last two contests, though DeBoer said that won't carry much weight heading into this meeting.

"It's not a given you're going to score because the other team has struggled defensively," DeBoer said. "There's a renewed sense of commitment to defense there under (coach) Randy (Carlyle). ... I think we're going to have to work for our goals."

Toronto (32-34-8), though, is coming off a pair of lopsided losses. It fell 8-0 at Boston on Monday then 5-2 against the New York Islanders the following night, and it has allowed at least five goals four times in 10 games under Carlyle.

The Leafs scored first Tuesday when Phil Kessel netted his 36th goal, then went up 2-1 on a goal from Matthew Lombardi early in the second period before allowing four unanswered.

Toronto held a lengthy closed-door meeting following the game, as Carlyle let the players vent about the recent struggles. Neither Carlyle nor the players would elaborate on what was said.

"The message is for us," Lombardi said. "We've got to believe in ourselves here and stay positive and move forward."

Carlyle said the Leafs have regressed.

"I thought that we made some progress, then we've fallen back the last two games," said Carlyle, who is 3-6-1 since taking over for the fired Ron Wilson. "That's what's been most disappointing. ... We have to re-energize this hockey club with some confidence."

Carlyle has yet to face the Devils as the Leafs' coach, though he said he knows what to expect.

New Jersey won in overtime the last two meetings, 4-3 on Feb. 21 and 3-2 on Dec. 6.

"New Jersey is going to play that hard trapping style," Carlyle said. "The old standby is Marty Brodeur. He's got a chance to make an imprint in every game."

Brodeur will be back in his starting role after getting Tuesday off. He's 2-1-0 versus Toronto this season, though he's only 3-3-1 with a 3.83 goals-against average in his last seven home starts against the Leafs.

Devils center Travis Zajac has been out since Jan. 2 with a left Achilles injury, though DeBoer said there's a chance he'll play Friday.

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