Devils-Islanders Preview

While the New Jersey Devils’ current late-season surge doesn’t

approach their lengthy sprint to the finish in 2010-11, this one

may end up putting them in the playoffs.

The Devils look to continue solidifying their grip on a

postseason berth as they seek a sweep of their home-and-home series

with the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday

night.

New Jersey (38-24-5) has won two in a row and three of four

since a four-game skid, giving it a strong hold on one of the final

playoff spots in the East. It’s in sixth place and within striking

distance of the fourth spot and home-ice advantage in the first

round.

Despite going 28-10-3 in their final 41 games last season, the

Devils couldn’t overcome their poor first half and missed the

postseason for the first time since 1996.

Last season’s run was powered offensively in large part by Ilya

Kovalchuk, and the star forward has been producing again this

season. He recorded a hat trick in a 5-1 rout of the Islanders on

Thursday, giving him 10 goals and 17 assists in his last 19 games –

during which the Devils have gone 12-5-2.

Kovalchuk has four goals in his last two games after not scoring

one in the previous nine, though he did record six assists in those

contests.

“He’s been playing really well,” said Martin Brodeur, who made

29 saves. ”The last game and today kind of makes up for the fact

he hadn’t been scoring much. The way he was carrying the puck, the

way he was skating and shooting, that’s what we need, for him to be

as good as he can every night. He’s been a force for us.”

Thursday’s victory gave the Devils 38 wins and 81 points,

matching last season’s totals.

“I came here to score goals and make plays for my team to try

and make my team win,” said Kovalchuk, who has 29 goals after

recording his second hat trick in just over three weeks.

Kovalchuk helped New Jersey outscore New York 3-0 in the third

period after the Islanders outshot the Devils 19-11 in the first

two. Andy MacDonald scored New York’s only goal.

“We had some guys, without mentioning names, you watch the game,

that quite frankly were invisible,” said coach Jack Capuano, who

team was trying to win three in a row for the first time since Jan.

17-21.

The Islanders (28-30-9) will be facing the Devils for the third

straight time, having beaten them 1-0 at home Sunday behind 24

saves from Anders Nilsson. The season series is tied at 2-2-0, with

each team winning once at home and on the road.

Evgeni Nabokov struggled Thursday, making 15 saves, and it’s

uncertain whether he’ll play in his 600th career game Saturday.

Along with Kovalchuk, left wing Patrik Elias has been hot for

the Devils with four goals and three assists in his last five games

after recording one of each Thursday.

David Clarkson has a goal in each of his last two contests,

while Zach Parise has recorded five goals and three assists in his

last seven.

Brodeur has given up one goal in each of his previous three

starts.

New York has gone 0 for 8 on the power play in its two

consecutive games against New Jersey and 2 for its last 26

overall.