newjerseydevils.com – Brent Sutter admits the next two are "big games."
But the head coach said that if his team keeps up its recent high level of play, they should be in fine shape against the two clubs atop the NHL standings.
Sutter's Devils have taken two in a row on their homestand, and look to improve to 3-1 with a win tonight against the League-leading Boston Bruins (7 p.m., MSG Plus, WFAN 660 AM). West-leading San Jose comes to Prudential Center for a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday.
The Devils (35-17-3) have a conference-best 28 points since Jan. 1, and hope to strengthen their lead in the Atlantic Division. Jersey's Team holds an eight-point edge over the Flyers and Rangers, who are tied for second place.
“I guess they always say there are measuring sticks, but for me it’s more about just continuing to play well,” Sutter said after Thursday's optional practice. “I get more focused on our own team and what we do and how we have to play. When we do things the right way, we always seem to play well. It seems to really enhance our chances, obviously, of being successful."
The last meeting between the Devils and Bruins yielded a 4-3 overtime victory for New Jersey on Jan. 29. Patrik Elias netted the tying goal with 1:45 left in regulation and Jamie Langenbrunner scored his second goal of the game in overtime.
"Playing two teams that are one and two in the NHL, and yet the one team we’ve played twice already and have had two very, very close games with," Sutter said. "I look at these two games – they’re big games – and yet, when we’re up to our standards, we can compete and play with anybody.”
Last two games have gone well for us, that's something that we have to build off of. We can't slip and have a bad one tonight or a bad first period. We have to come out as a team and play the first 20 minutes as hard as we can. They're going to come out hitting, and we have to match that and come out just as hard. - David Clarkson
Their 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday moved the Devils into a tie in points (73) with Washington for second place in the Eastern Conference, 12 points behind Boston.
Zach Parise set a new career high with his 33rd and 34th goals of the season, and assisted on both of Langenbrunner's goals. Kevin Weekes made his second start in four games and posted 23 saves to extend his personal winning streak to four.
Parise, tied with Philadelphia's Jeff Carter for second on the league's goals list, has amassed a career-high 67 points that are fifth-best in the NHL.
Langenbrunner also continues to be one of the Devils' hottest snipers, and has produced nine goals and four assists in his last eight games.
"I think it was only a matter of time with him," Langenbrunner said of Parise. "When you play as hard as he does, you are going to get rewarded, especially when you have the skill that he has. He puts himself in position to score goals."
A last-place team two years ago, the Bruins (39-9-7) lead the East with 3.38 goals per game and have allowed the fewest in the league thanks to the goaltending tandem of Tim Thomas (2.15 goals-against average) and Manny Fernandez (2.16).
One of Thomas' three shutouts came in Boston's 2-0 victory in New Jersey on Dec. 23.
Coach Claude Julien's team is 19-4-4 at home and a league-best 20-5-3 on the road.
It looked like Boston was on its way to another win at the TD Banknorth Garden on Tuesday, as Milan Lucic's two goals gave it a 2-1 edge on San Jose heading into the third period. But Thomas allowed three goals in a six-minute span and the Sharks added an empty-netter to win 5-2, the Bruins' first loss by more than two goals this season.
The Bruins, who were outshot 12-7 in the third, had been 26-0-2 when leading after two periods. Now they look to avoid losing three in a row, which would match a season high.
Marc Savard is a big reason Boston is among the NHL's best on the power play, but lately it's struggled to get anything going. The Bruins converted 25.4 percent of the time with the man advantage through Jan. 27, but are 2-for-30 (6.7 percent) in their last seven games, including 0-for-5 against the Sharks.