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Lemaire: We can play better

Wants to see how team handles next skid

Wednesday, 02.16.2011 / 1:47 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Lemaire: We can play better
The Devils have been winning just about every night, but Jacques Lemaire isn’t fully convinced they have put their past troubles behind them.

“I don’t think so,” he said after today’s morning skate. “I think the past will be after the next dip.”

Though they’ve gone 12-1-2 in the second half and 6-0-1 since the break, Lemaire wants to see how they handle adversity from here to the finish line. Twenty-six games remain entering tonight’s meeting with Carolina.

“If we go on and lose a few games in a row, [it's] how we’re going to get back and play as well as we can,” he said. “And then the past will be gone.”

The hottest team in the NHL, the Devils (22-30-4) trail the final playoff spot by 14 points. They were 27 points out of eighth place on Jan. 8 and have worked hard to get this close.

The winningest coach in Devils history wants more from his squad.

“We’re pretty steady,” Lemaire said. “[The media] will look at the wins. I’m looking at how we play. I feel that we can play better than our last couple of games. This could be the dip.”

Johan Hedberg has played an important part in keeping them in the hunt. Martin Brodeur has missed the last three games with a knee sprain, and Hedberg has stopped 82 of 86 shots in notching three straight wins.

“I’ve seen him at times before I got here playing worse than this. Now that we need him, he shows up, he stands up and plays well. That’s exactly what you need. If he would be where he was before when he was struggling a bit, then we’d have no chance. Anybody knows that if your goalie’s not good one night, you don’t win. It’s that simple. We’re fortunate that he’s been playing like this.”

Lemaire believes Hedberg has succeeded by embracing the role of go-to guy in Brodeur’s absence.

“I think it’s a big part of the difference,” said the coach. “He’s a competitor and now he sees the challenge and he steps up.”

He captured his 600th victory last Thursday in Toronto and has experienced enough in his career to know that any team will struggle from time to time. When that happens, the only solution is to battle through them.

"You get games where nothing works, passes are not good and your mind’s not fresh and you’re struggling a bit," he explained. "The worst thing to do is feel sorry for yourself. If you step up and say, 'We just have to keep working,' that dip there will be really short. It’s going to be a game or two game period and it’s over. Not even two games.

"Usually because your work ethic is there, you bounce back right away, at least playing good. But if teams are better than your team, and they work as hard as you do, then you still can lose. But that you have to accept. What you can’t accept is not playing the best you can. That’s what I’m looking for every day."

Brodeur has been skating and could practice with the team as early as Thursday.

"Maybe tomorrow he'll be with us," Lemaire said.