The New Jersey Devils (34-36-4) are teetering on the brink of mathematical elimination of the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres (37-28-9) can push them off that ledge tonight.
The Devils head to HSBC Arena desperately needing a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
New Jersey is 5-0-2 against the Sabres on the road. They haven't lost to them on the road in regulation since March 28, 2007. They'll need another win against the eighth-place Sabres to stay playoff relevant. Buffalo sits 10 points ahead of the Devils with just eight games remaining.
Despite their 24-3-2 run between January 9 and March 15, the Devils never moved within two points of the eighth seed in the conference. Their recent 1-3-1 slide continues to crush their hopes of a 14th consecutive playoff appearance. The team's offense has disappeared, a trend found throughout their first half struggles. In the past five games, they've only scored five goals and have twice been shut out.
The poor offensive performances continued last night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins blanked the Devils, 1-0. New Jersey and Pittsburgh combined for just four shots in the first period, and each team struggled to produce quality scoring chances throughout the game. The game went to a shootout, where James Neal scored the third round, game-winning goal.
Ilya Kovalchuk felt the loss sealed the Devils' fate.
"I think we're done," Kovalchuk told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record after the game. "But still we've got to play for pride for our fans and just make a push and do better for next year."
The Sabres took two of this season's three meetings. They've outscored the Devils, 11-6, including a 6-1 thumping at the Prudential Center on October 23.
Ryan Miller will start for the Sabres. He's 2-0-1 in his last three games against the Devils, allowing just one goal per game.
Martin Brodeur will start his 14th consecutive game for New Jersey. He's recorded two shutouts in his last three starts.
Playoff Tracker 2011
As the regular season quickly winds down, the Devils sit 10 points out of a playoff spot. Here are the games directly affecting their chances of making the playoffs this season: