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Devils look to rebound Friday in Atlanta

Wednesday, 03.9.2011 / 5:02 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Devils look to rebound Friday in Atlanta
Elias had the lone goal Tuesday. GETTY IMAGES
The Devils knew they weren’t going undefeated over the final 21 games of the season. Having come up short in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Ottawa, they’re ready to dust themselves off and move on.

Jacques Lemaire watched his team waste three straight power plays in the second period of a game they were positioned to win.

The man advantages overlapped to create 5-on-3s of 16 seconds and 1:12, but the Devils couldn’t solve Senators netminder Craig Anderson.

“We had a bad game although we could have won even as bad as we played,” Lemaire said after practice Wednesday. “They gave us an opportunity to win by taking the penalties. We didn’t take advantage of that.”

It was only the Devils’ third regulation loss in their last 25 games (20-3-2), and snapped a four-game winning streak. Patrik Elias had the lone goal to tie it up in the third, while Ilya Kovalchuk was held to one shot in a team-high 24:10 of ice time.

Lemaire dismissed it as being an off-night, and credited both Elias and Kovalchuk for being instrumental in the team's second-half surge.

“You look at Kovy: Kovy didn’t have a good game, Pat didn’t have a good game, but these guys have been carrying the team to a certain point,” Lemaire said. “It’s a bad game they had, they forget it, they go to the next one, that’s it. That’s what they have to do. It’s been 25 games they’ve played at their best.”

The defeat didn’t cost the Devils (30-32-4) any ground in the playoff chase, but it was a missed opportunity to gain on the eighth-place Sabres. Buffalo fell, 3-1, in Pittsburgh.

“I think this loss is not going to kill us,” said Travis Zajac. “It’s frustrating because we could have made up ground, and in the situation we’re in, that’s the frustrating part. But we’ll forget about it. It happened to against a team that we’d like to beat. Nothing you can do about it now.”

Kovalchuk has 10 goals and nine assists in his last 17 games, but never found his rhythm against the last-place Senators.

“It’s just, I don’t know, I didn’t get the jump or I don’t know what,” Kovalchuk said. “I was kind of, not in the game. So it’s unacceptable because those points are very important. Then, things didn’t go the way we want them to, you try to do something extra, and that’s where you get out of your game. We all have to stick to the game plan and just do what the coaches ask us to do.”

They get back at it Friday night in Atlanta, where they face the Thrashers. The plan calls for a strong rebound against one of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

“It will say a lot how we respond,” Kovalchuk said. “We’ve got another day of practice tomorrow, and we’ll go to Atlanta. That team, they’ll be desperate for the points. They still believe they can do it, too. That will be a huge game. For us, it will be do or die, that’s for sure, because we can’t allow to lose two in a row."

Kovalchuk and the Devils haven’t been to Philips Arena since a 7-1 loss on Dec. 18, five days before Lemaire took over as coach. New Jersey hosted the Thrashers for a 3-1 win on New Year’s Eve. The teams close out the season series at the Rock next Tuesday.

“Last time we played them we were in bad shape. I think a lot of fans were excited, they beat us 7-1,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m sure we have to respond the right way. It’s a totally different situation now. We’re in the same position as them. It’ll be a huge four-point game, like all of those games for us right now. Especially after our performance last night, that’s going to show a lot about the team.”

David Clarkson maintains a positive outlook with 16 games to go.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Clarkson said. “I think we’ve got the right guys in here and Jacques has done a great job of working with us, so I think as a team we know what we have to do and we realize that we let that one get by us.”

Still, the Devils will need other bubble teams like Carolina and Toronto to slip up in order to climb in the standings.

“When you’re trying to come back like this, it’s hard,” Lemaire said. “That’s why, at a time, I said it’s nearly impossible. Because you’re going to go on a good stretch, we win there, we didn’t gain any ground or very little. You’re bound to lose a game somewhere. So you lose a game, then the other team loses, so you’re still in the same position. Before that, you won games, they won games. It’s just tough.”

Lemaire mentioned the logjam in the Western Conference, where just five points separate fourth-place Chicago from 11th-place Anaheim.

“You look at the guys that want to make the playoffs, they win a game, they’re in; they lose a game or tie a game, they’re out,” he said. “You know how tough it is to get ahead of them? Because when they win, the other team wins. When they lose, if they’re fortunate, the other team will lose, so they’re not moving.”

Right now, every point is vital.

“Every game right now is do-or-die for us,” Clarkson said. “We’re not looking at the big picture. We’re taking it game-by-game, day-by-day and we’re not happy with the way that game went for us. All we can do is work like we did today and get ready for the next game.”