Every game has become a do-or-die matchup for the New Jersey Devils (33-34-4).
New Jersey, losers of two straight, saw their miracle playoff push take a nosedive with two straight losses. Tonight in Columbus, they'll look to keep their slim postseason hopes alive against the Columbus Blue Jackets (33-28-10).
Devils' left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk explained the team's all-in attitude.
"We've still got 11 games and we're six points back, so we know it's possible," Kovalchuk told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We just have to play the way we were playing before. But now we don't have nay room for any losses anymore. We just have to play every game like it's the last game."
Finishing the season perfect may not be enough.
"We've got to win 10 out of 11 probably," Brian Rolston told Gulitti. "Who knows? I don't know if that's a guarantee, but we've got to beat Columbus first. That's first and foremost. We've just got to continue playing game by game."
The Devils enter tonight's matchup six points behind the eighth place Buffalo Sabres. The deficit is small, but New Jersey needs to jump over three teams to reach the Sabres.
New Jersey's offense has let them down during their two-game losing streak. They've scored only one goal on 67 shots, and Kovalchuk has been held pointless during those two games.
Jacques Lemaire liked his team's effort and credited opposing goalies for their play.
"We got a lot of chances," Lemaire told Gulitti. "It seems like every goalie plays his best game against us, but we have to get through that."
Columbus shares the same slim playoff hopes the Devils hold. They sit 12th in the Western Conference with 76 points, and are 0-2-2 in their last four games.
Tonight's game is the only matchup between the two teams. New Jersey leads the overall series, 6-2-1 with one tie. Martin Brodeur is 5-2-1 with one tie in nine stars, and has a 2.41 goals-against average.
With games against Eastern Conference playoff teams on the horizon, the Devils know they need to win to keep their playoff dreams alive.
"It's not a question of winning every game, it's a question of winning the next one and keep on doing that," Brodeur told Gulitti. "Because we don't know. We can't trust teams to falter. The next four games are definitely going to say a lot. It's tough this time of the year to get a road trip like that, but we'll pull through. We've been playing well on the road and we've got to keep it the same way. You look and the last two games even though we didn't win we played well. You get this stretch in the middle of the season, nobody is going to (worry).
"Now it counts. Every game counts for us."
Playoff Tracker 2011
With two straight losses, the Devils are going to need help to continue their push toward the playoffs. Here are the games that directly impact New Jersey's playoff chances:
New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins (12:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center) - The Blueshirts have been on-fire lately, solidifying their hold on the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They entered their matinee against the Penguins with 80 points, ten ahead of the Devils. It would take a miracle to catch them.
Nashville Predators at Buffalo Sabres (5 p.m., HSBC Arena) - This is the game the Devils will watch. A loss by Buffalo allows the Devils to close the point gap to just four if they win tonight. But if Buffalo wins, it can theoretically sink the Devils chances.