The New Jersey Devils have spent most of this season as one of the NHL’s few non-playoff contenders. But now they’re at least attempting to ensure some other teams share their misery.
The Devils will look to continue playing spoiler Tuesday night, when they host the suddenly desperate Pittsburgh Penguins in Newark, N.J.
The Devils’ victory was their second straight and marked the first time they’ve won consecutive games since Jan. 12-14. The winning streak is just the third for New Jersey since it opened the season by winning the first four games. Only one of those streaks was longer than two games (a three-game run from Dec. 27-31).
With this current run, the Devils (23-28-8, 54 points), who will enter Tuesday tied for the second-fewest points in the Eastern Conference, are doing their best to impact the playoff race.
New Jersey lost the first two games of a Western Conference road trip, but capped the swing Friday by coming back from a three-goal deficit late in the second period to stun the Minnesota Wild, 5-4, in overtime. The loss was a major blow to Minnesota as it competes for a wild-card spot in the West.
On Sunday, the Devils made the path to the playoffs tougher for the Sabres, whose loss coupled with the Penguins’ win left Buffalo six points behind Pittsburgh in the race for the last wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.
“We needed to have a strong focus coming off the road trip, coming off the win,” Devils head coach John Hynes said following the win over the Sabres. “We have a word, we call (it) ‘self-starters’ in our room. And this is one of those games where you need it. And we had it.”
Focus shouldn’t be a problem for the Penguins, the perennial Stanley Cup contenders who are fighting just to get into the playoffs. Pittsburgh (31-21-7, 69 points), which has made the playoffs in 12 straight seasons — the longest active streak in the NHL — moved back into the last wild-card spot Sunday, one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, by beating the Rangers.
Even beginning Sunday afternoon on the outside looking in was a rare position to be in for the Penguins, who hadn’t ranked lower than eighth in the Eastern Conference this late in a season since 2008-09, a campaign that ended with Pittsburgh winning the first of its three Stanley Cups in the Sidney Crosby era.
“Every point matters, and that’s going to make us better in the long run,” Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin told reporters following the victory over the Rangers. “If we keep chipping away and … really (keep) bearing down and playing well, it will be beneficial come playoff time. We’ve just got to embrace the race.”
New Jersey took the first three meetings of the season from Pittsburgh by a combined score of 15-6, including road victories of 5-1 and 6-3, the latter coming on Jan. 28.
–Field Level Media