The New Jersey Devils’ playoff fate remains outside of their control, but they’re certainly doing their part to make it a race to the finish.
They’re hoping what appears to be a favorable schedule will give them a good chance to keep applying pressure.
The Devils begin their final stretch Monday night at home against the Calgary Flames, who have shown an ability to play spoiler in recent weeks.
New Jersey (34-28-16) was six points out of wild-card position in the Eastern Conference on March 23, but it’s picked up 11 of a possible 14 points since then to stay in contention.
The Devils dropped a critical one in a shootout loss to league-worst Buffalo on Tuesday but picked up all four on Friday and Saturday. Ryan Carter scored the third-period winner in a 2-1 victory against Washington before Dainius Zubrus scored twice in a 3-1 win at Carolina.
"I’ve known the character in that room for the three years I’ve been here," coach Pete DeBoer told the league’s official website after Saturday’s victory. "I knew there was no quit in that dressing room and these guys were going to play until they tell us we can’t play anymore."
New Jersey trails current top wild card Detroit by four points and Columbus by three, with each team having four games left.
The Devils seem to have an agreeable schedule starting with Calgary’s visit, followed by a trip to all-but-eliminated Ottawa and home games with the New York Islanders and Boston. The Bruins could have already clinched the Presidents’ Trophy prior to Sunday’s season finale.
Though the Flames (33-38-7) were officially eliminated from the playoff race last week and were realistically out of it for much longer, they’ve hardly been pushovers. Calgary is 17-11-0 since Jan. 22 with a plus-0.61 goal differential that’s the league’s fourth-best in that span.
The Flames rolled to a 4-1 victory over a Tampa Bay team that’s fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round Thursday, then got 34 saves from Joey MacDonald in a 2-1 win at Florida the next night.
"It’s a big win," coach Bob Hartley said Friday. "I don’t care that we’re not making the playoffs, I don’t care that we’re at the end of the season. It’s an investment. We’re asking the guys to play playoff hockey and I think we showed that tonight."
Friday was MacDonald’s second win in as many starts since being recalled from Abbotsford on March 5 after a four-month stint in the AHL. His final victory prior to being sent down came Oct. 11 against New Jersey as he stopped 19 shots in a 3-2 win.
Martin Brodeur was in net for that loss but Cory Schneider has started the last three for the Devils and has a 1.22 goals-against average in his last six appearances. Schneider was 4-2-0 with a 2.13 GAA in six starts against Calgary in his days with Vancouver.
Zubrus has three goals in his last three games and Travis Zajac has four goals and two assists in his past four, but the Devils’ chances of making a playoff push may come down to the health of Patrik Elias (head) and Adam Henrique (groin) – the team’s third- and fourth-leading scorers.
Both were hurt in Friday’s win, as was center Jacob Josefson (ankle). Winger Ryane Clowe hasn’t played since hitting his head on the boards last Monday.
All four are considered day to day while defenseman Bryce Salvador remains out with a nagging groin injury.