Devils-Maple Leafs Preview
This could be the season the Toronto Maple Leafs end the longest playoff drought in the NHL. It could also be just the second time in 13 years that the New Jersey Devils fail to advance to the postseason.
Toronto goes for a sweep of the season series while the Devils try to avoid a team record-tying 10th straight defeat Monday night.
The Maple Leafs (23-13-5) appear well on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04, sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference and on an 8-1-4 surge. Toronto scored four times on its first five shots and defeated Montreal 5-1 on Saturday.
"You've got to really remain focused 110 percent to make the safe play and make the right play," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We did that for a good part of the hockey game."
Maple Leafs leading scorer Phil Kessel has recorded five of his 15 goals in the last three contests after a nine-game stretch without one.
The Devils (15-16-10) desperately need someone to get hot offensively. New Jersey has totaled 16 goals since its last victory, 2-1 over Florida on March 23.
That also happens to be the last time Ilya Kovalchuk played. The star forward returned to practice Tuesday as he attempts to overcome a right shoulder problem, but it's uncertain when he'll rejoin the Devils.
New Jersey has gone 3 for 33 on the power play with Kovalchuk out after failing on all four chances in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa on Friday. New Jersey lost despite holding a 33-11 advantage in shots.
"It just happens everything is working against us now,'' leading scorer Patrik Elias said. "We're working hard and trying to create our own luck, and it's not happening.''
If it doesn't happen Monday, New Jersey will equal a club-worst skid set Oct. 14-Nov. 4, 1983. The Devils have gone 1-5-6 in their last 12 road games.
"It's been tough because the guys, they care, and they are playing hard,'' said Martin Brodeur, who's been in net each time during the 0-5-4 slide. "... When you go out there and execute what you are supposed to do and you come back with nothing - what is it, eight or nine games in a row - it's just a tough way to play hockey.''
One of the losses during the nine-game skid came by a 2-1 score April 6, Toronto's third straight win in the series.
While Brodeur hasn't been bad of late, giving up two or fewer goals in five of his last six, the Leafs' James Reimer has been better. He's posted a 1.99 goals-against average while starting each of the last seven games, making 36 saves Saturday.
"We don't ask him to win us games, we just ask him to give us a chance,'' Carlyle said. "And again tonight he did that.''
Toronto has mostly dominated this series in recent years, going 11-2-5 in the past 18 meetings and 3-0-2 in the last five. The Maple Leafs are 5-0-4 in New Jersey's last nine visits.