The New Jersey Devils can take a big step toward locking up a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in six seasons with a win against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Sunday.
The Devils (41-28-9) have 91 points and enter the game against the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card position, five points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who hold a game in hand.
“Any win right now is going to be huge and we have to keep it going to give ourselves the best chance to control our own destiny and come out strong in Montreal tomorrow,” Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid told reporters.
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The Devils are one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the first wild card.
Both the Devils and the Canadiens will be playing the second of back-to-back games.
New Jersey is coming off a 4-3 win against the New York Islanders on Saturday while the Canadiens lost 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid made 27 saves against the Islanders and improved his record to 22-10-3 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
“Kinkaid is playing lights out. There’s not much more you can say. He’s stepped up and answered the bell. He’s carrying us right now,” New Jersey forward Blake Coleman told the team’s website after scoring a short-handed goal. “He’s a great guy and deserves all this praise. I don’t expect anything less down the stretch.”
Devils forward Taylor Hall, a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, scored his 35th and 36th goals of the season in the win against the Islanders. He also is looking to reach the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career.
The Devils are 20-14-5 on the road this season, tied for the third-most victories away from home in the Eastern Conference behind the Tampa Bay Lighting (25) and the Boston Bruins (22).
Coleman’s goal was his third short-handed tally and New Jersey’s 11th this season, tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the most in the NHL.
“We love our PK. We have a lot of speed and a lot of workers,” Coleman said. “We have fun out there. We skate with the best of them. It’s certainly fun to have that attack mindset when we turn pucks over versus just chucking the puck down the ice.”
Goaltender Carey Price is expected to start for the Canadiens, whose 68 points are fourth-worst in the league. He is 16-24-6 with a 3.07 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, one of the few bright spots for Montreal this season, had a pair of assists against the Penguins to give him 51 points on the season, the first time he has surpassed the 50-point plateau.
The Canadiens lost for the 38th time in regulation Saturday against the Penguins. Montreal gave up three power-play goals against the Penguins and will be looking to stay out of the penalty box against the Devils to avoid a repeat of what happened against Pittsburgh.
“Especially against a team like that, which has talent and speed and is capable of making plays out of nothing,” Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin told the team’s website. “When you give them five power-play chances, it’s hard to stay in the game.”
“Right now, I think there are guys who aren’t ready to pay the price on the penalty kill and that winds up costing goals. At 5-on-5 it’s not that bad, but our PK gave up three goals,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told the team’s website. “When you’re not ready to work or pay the price (you don’t win). We had a few chances, but we weren’t able to score.”