New Jersey Devils' (30-32-4) left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk didn't mince words about how a loss to the Atlanta Thrashers (28-28-11) could end his team's season.
"We go to Atlanta," Kovalchuk told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. "That team will be desperate for points. They still believe they can do it, too, so it will be a huge game. For us it will be do or die, that's for sure, because we can't afford to lose two in a row.
New Jersey will look to avoid their first losing streak in almost two months as they face the Thrashers tonight at Philips Arena.
The Devils' recent surge to the playoffs hit a snag Tuesday night with a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. New Jersey allowed the game-winning goal with just 2:13 left in the third period. It was New Jersey's third regulation loss in their past 25 games.
"I think we had a bad game, although we could've won even as bad as we played," Lemaire told Chere. "They gave us an opportunity to win by taking the penalties. We didn't take advantage of that."
New Jersey is also struggling offensively. The team hasn't scored more than two goals in their last seven games and have scored just one in four of their last nine games.
The Thrashers, left for dead after a 2-9-2 tailspin after the All-Star break, are clinging to slim playoff hopes. They remain three points ahead of the Devils for 11th in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta may be without one of their best players tonight. Dustin Byfuglien, who ranks fourth among all defenseman with 49 points, missed Wednesday's game due to a lower-body injury. Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said Byfuglien would be a game-time decision.
The Devils are returning to Atlanta for the first time since a 7-1 thrashing on December 18. The tandem of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg allowed all seven goals in one of John MacLean's last games as coach.
Kovalchuk, who returns to face his former team, believes tonight's game is a completely different situation.
"We were a totally different team when we played the first game against them there," Kovalchuk told Chere. "The last time we played them we were in bad shape. A lot of fans were excited. They beat us like, 7-1. We have to respond the right way. We're in the same position with them. It will be a huge four-point game."
Kovalchuk isn't the only Devil who believes tonight's game represents a do-or-die situation.
"We know we don't have a lot of margin for error," Hedberg told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "Pretty much every team plays the same way right now. It's very tight. No one is really opening up and it doesn't matter if some teams are out of it. There's a lot of guys playing for jobs, playing for pride. There's not any nights you can take off.
"I still think we've got to just take care of our own business. If we deserve to be there, we'll be there."
Playoff Watch 2011
There are two other games tonight that directly affect the Devils. Though New Jersey cannot move up the conference standings, the outcomes of the following games shrink the deficit.
Boston Bruins at New York Islanders (7 p.m., Nassau Coliseum) - The Isles trail the Devils by a mere two points in the standings. While it wouldn't negatively affect the Devils, they don't need to be tied with the resurgent Isles while fighting for a playoff berth.
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (7 p.m., Verizon Center) - Caroline currently holds the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a playoff spot. The Devils need to close the gap, and a Carolina loss would shrink the deficit to six points.