The New Jersey Devils (35-36-5) are coping with the reality of missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons. But that fact won't diminish their chance to play spoiler against their biggest rival.
New Jersey will look to move back to NHL-.500 tonight when they face the struggling Philadelphia Flyers (46-21-10) at the Prudential Center.
With only six regular season games remaining, both teams stand on opposite ends of the playoff spectrum. New Jersey enters tonight's game sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 12 points out of a playoff spot. If the Buffalo Sabres gain one point in the standings, they will mathmatically eliminate the Devils.
The Flyers, on the other hand, hold the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 102 points. But their lead is tenuous at best. They've lost three of their last five and are just 5-2-4 since defenseman Chris Pronger broke his hand March 8.
Despite being out of the playoff picture, the Devils want to finish the season strong.
"I’d like to put pressure on these guys a little bit and say that the last games that we have to play from here on (will be the best way to judge the season)," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It would be very simple just to say that, ‘Hey, we came back. We did well up to now. It’s fine.’ But it will be fine if we play well from now until the end."
One of those goals will be to even the season series against the Flyers. Philadelphia won nine of the last 12 meetings against the Devils, and lead this season's series 3-1-1. The Flyers won their last game at New Jersey, 4-2. Both Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell scored two goals apiece in the win.
Johan Hedberg will start for the Devils. He's faced the Flyers five times this season, going 2-3-0 with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. This is his first start since a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 25.
Despite facing them five times, Hedberg knows the Flyers are a difficult opponent.
"There is no easy nights anyway," Hedberg told Gulitti. "It's been proven all year. If you’re not sharp one night, any team will beat you. But they’re a good team. I’ve seen them quite a few times this year. They’re a lot of cycling around the net, a lot of crashing around the net. Pretty intense."
Anton Volchenkov will also return to the lineup. The defenseman missed two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in a loss to Pittsburgh last Friday.