Playoff hopes could hinge on three upcoming games with Carolina
|Brodeur is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts, but could miss Tuesday's meeting with the Hurricanes after injuring his knee Sunday in Montreal. He has been a driving force behind the Devils playoff push.|
They have taken small steps, first climbing out of last overall, then putting the Islanders (more points) and Senators (more wins) in their rearview.
Currently 13th in the East, the Devils' 9-1-2 mark in the last 12 games has gotten them within 16 points of Carolina for the final playoff spot.
Over 12 days, they face the Hurricanes twice at home and once on the road, a stretch that could determine whether the postseason is a possibility or a pipe dream.
The Devils (19-30-4) were 10-29-2 before this stretch, which began with a 6-3 win over Southeast-leading Tampa Bay on Jan. 9. Since then, they have collected 20 of a possible 24 points. They have outscored opponents 41-24, tallying four or more goals five times, and limiting opponents to two goals or less eight times.
Impressive numbers that have added up to a lot of newfound optimism.
“Definitely,” Sestito said. “We still have a lot of work cut out for us, and I don’t think anyone’s looking too far ahead, but that said, [that’s] a team that’s got the eight spot right now. We’re playing them a bunch of times. There’s a lot of teams we have to jump, but as long as we’re getting the points and not giving them to anybody else, that’s good. We just have to make sure we’re getting two points, not just one.”
Johan Hedberg was valiant in relief of Martin Brodeur on Sunday, making 14 saves including 10 in the third period of a 4-1 win in Montreal.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in here doubting that we have a chance,” said Hedberg. “I know I’m not. As hopeless as it maybe felt for a bit is as hopeful as it feels right now. It’s going to take a mammoth effort, but it’s a positive challenge.”
|Hedberg said Devils' postseason quest is "a positive challenge."|
Brodeur also didn't skate in Monday’s optional practice and Jacques Lemaire doesn’t think he'll be available when the Hurricanes visit Prudential Center on Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’ll have him,” Lemaire said. “And I’ve got no news on how long.”
No Brodeur means Hedberg will need to be ready again. He made 25 saves in Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Florida, then stopped 14 of 15 shots in relief of Brodeur on Sunday.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen with him, so I’m just going to play to whatever they tell me to do and not look too far ahead of that,” Hedberg said. “Whatever the situation is, I’ll deal with it.”
A win over the Hurricanes could get the Devils within 14 points of eighth place with 28 games to go. Carolina and Atlanta were tied in points entering Monday’s action, with the Thrashers set to visit Toronto.
It's a big opportunity. But with so much ground to gain, most of the Devils' remaining 29 figure to be crucial.
“Bigger game than Montreal? It’s still two points,” Lemaire said. “You lose in Montreal, you beat [Carolina], you’re still in the same spot. We’ve got to play. We’ve got to play good. We’ve got to try to play as good as we can, that’s the thing.”
This will be the Devils' second meeting with Carolina. They lost 6-3 in Raleigh on New Year's Day.
Lemaire mum on future
Lemaire was asked Monday about comments he made in Montreal suggesting he hasn’t ruled out coming back to coach next season.
“I said that I’ll talk about next year after this year,” Lemaire clarified.
“It means that I’m going to finish the season and then I’ll decide what I do after,” he said. “I’ll tell you exactly what I do after. Let me finish the season and we’re going to sit down and I’ll tell you.”
Is that a change from his previous position?
“Doesn’t mean anything. It just means that instead of talking now, I’ll talk after the season,” he said. “This is a good game. It’s a fun game. So is golf. It’s exciting to win games. It’s fun. And when I play under 80, it’s fun.”
Power play looking for a charge
The power play generated six shots in two opportunities Sunday, but has gone scoreless in 12 chances over the past five games.
“We’re getting some shots, we’re moving the puck well,” Lemaire said. “The right guy has to make the right play at the right time.”
Rookie Mark Fayne led the defensemen with 1:33 logged with the man advantage.
“He’s got a good shot, he’s learning, he’s a right hand shot.” Lemaire said.
Twelve players took part in Monday's optional:
Forwards: David Clarkson, Mattias Tedenby, Rod Pelley, Nick Palmieri, Vladimir Zharkov, Adam Mair, Tim Sestito
Defensemen: Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fraser, Anssi Salmela
Goaltender: Johan Hedberg