The New Jersey Devils (34-35-4) frantic push to the playoffs made headline news during the second half of the season.
But the team's dream of doing the unthinkable may have ended at the TD Garden with a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins (40-22-10).
The loss was the third in four games for the suddenly cold Devils. They now sit nine points behind the eighth place Buffalo Sabres with nine games left in the regular season.
Four straight second period penalties helped sink the Devils. Boston took full advantage, scoring nine seconds into their first powerplay opportunity. With Nick Palmieri in the box for tripping, Milan Lucic held the puck in the right circle. He fired a pass across to Zdeno Chara, who snuck down from the point and into the left slot. The Bruins' defenseman chipped the puck past a diving Martin Brodeur to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
Jacques Lemaire noted how the penalty kill didn't allow the Devils to gain any offensive flow.
"In the second, half the period we killed penalties and we kill with four guys pretty much the whole time," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It gets a little tougher to get your team going that same direction."
New Jersey, who outshot the Bruins 16-5 during the first period, failed to put pressure on Tim Thomas and the Boston defense after Chara's goal. They managed only eight shots in the second period, and seven in the final frame.
Despite the disadvantage, the Devils had a late opportunity to tie the game. With just over four minutes remaining, Ilya Kovalchuk found himself all alone for a one-timer in front of the net. His shanked his shot wide, however, missing a golden opportunity to tie the game.
Milan Lucic sealed the victory at 3:47 of the third period. Chara took a shot from the point that Brodeur deflected to the right corner. Patrice Bergeron quickly corralled the puck and fed Lucic, who beat Brodeur for his 30th goal of the season.
Lucic is the first Bruin since Phil Kessel in 2008-09 to record a 30 goal season.
Mark Recchi added an empty-netter with 40 seconds remaining in regulation. It was just the second time in eight games the Bruins found their way into the win column.
Kovalchuk opened the scoring with a powerplay goal at 11:05 of the first period. With Recchi in the box for hooking, Mattias Tedenby held the puck behind the net. He passed to a wide-open Kovalchuk, who one-timed the puck from the slot past Tim Thomas for his 27th goal of the season.
Shawn Thornton responded for Bruins, tipping a Dennis Seidenberg shot past Brodeur at 15:39 of the period to tie the game at one.
Despite the loss, Devils' center Patrik Elias believed the team can still sustain their drive to the playoffs.
"Obviously we put ourselves in the difficult position with the last four games," Elias told Gulitti. "But do we believe we can get the nine games in a row? Yes, of course."
Chara's goal was also his 400th NHL point…Kovalchuk spent much of the game double-shifting on the team's third line…Brodeur started his 12th straight game…Tonight's game was Lemaire's 500th with the Devils organization.