The New Jersey Devils are experiencing their own version of college basketball's "rivalry week," but one team is dominating their schedule - the New York Islanders.
The Devils and Islanders square off tonight for the second of three meetings this week, beginning a home-and-home series tonight at the Prudential Center. Gametime is 7 p.m. and the game will be televised locally on MSG Plus.
New Jersey enters tonight's contest sixth in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Ottawa Senators. They lead the division-rival Islanders by 14 points.
The Devils, who have struggled after a hot start to the post-All Star break schedule, defeated the New York Rangers, 4-1, Tuesday night on home ice. Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a nine-game goal drought, scoring just 49 seconds into the first period. The Rangers responded in the second period, and the teams entered the final frame tied 1-1. It would be all New Jersey in the last 20 minutes, as David Clarkson and Ryan Carter scored goals to break the tie. Patrik Elias would add an empty-netter to seal the win.
It was the third time in five tried the Devils defeated the Rangers, who lead the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders will play their second of three straight games agains the Devils. They defeated New Jersey, 1-0, Sunday at Nassau Coliseum. Kyle Okposo scored the game's only goal in the second period, beating Martin Brodeur at the 2:39 mark. Anders Nillson earned his first career shutout, stopping 24 shots in the win. New Jersey generated just 12 shots on net over the first two periods.
That loss came after the Devils defeated the Washington Capitals, 5-0. Devils coach Pete DeBoer said the team can't afford another letdown.
"When you come off an emotional win like you just did, the next game is always a tough one trying to remanufacture that again," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record after practice Wednesday. "You listen to the Rangers talk about the game and they came off an emotional game against Boston (Sunday) and couldn't get it back against us the next night. We're facing the same type of situation here tomorrow, so we have to make sure we don't fall into that."
The Islanders enter tonight's game seven points out of the playoff picture. They've defeated the Devils twice in a row, and center Jacob Josefson said it's a team New Jersey can't take lightly.
"We need to come in with the same energy and the same focus and the same effort," he told Gulitti after practice yesterday. "The Islanders are a really good team and they've been playing really well lately and we need the same kind of effort to beat them tomorrow."