Over the past two months, the New Jersey Devils (30-32-4) made a habit of taking advantage of their opportunities.
Chalk tonight up to one of those rare times when they let an opportunity slip through their fingers.
The Devils failed to improve their playoff position and reach NHL .500 with a 2-1 loss to the last-place Ottawa Senators (23-34-9) tonight at the Prudential Center.
The loss denied New Jersey the opportunity to gain ground on both the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. Those two teams, ahead of the Devils in the standings, lost their games tonight. New Jersey also missed an opportunity to move up to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.
Erik Condra ended the Devils five-game winning streak with 2:14 remaining in regulation. Jason Spezza controlled the puck at the left point and fired a shot on net. Kondra redirected the shot inside the post for the game-winning goal.
"The puck was going in the corner," goaltender Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It hit (Andy Greene's) skate and came back right on the guy's stuck and just got little tip on it."
Patrik Elias tied the game, 1-1, at 14:01 of the third period. Brian Rolston held the puck behind the net, and skated over to the right corner. He passed the puck to a cutting Elias, who put the puck inside the right post for his 15th goal of the season.
Condra's first goal at 4:45 of the second period put the Senators ahead, 1-0. Colin Greening dumped the puck, and Ryan Shannon beat Henrik Tallinder to the corner. Shannon passed the puck to Condra, who took a shot from the left circle. Brodeur made the initial save, but Condra dove to bat the rebound past the Devils' goalie for his third goal of the season.
The Devils, whose last 16 games had been decided by a goal, couldn't capitalize on three big powerplay opportunities during the second period, including two 5-on-3 advantages.
"We had our chances 5-on-3," Lemaire told Gulitti. "You have to be sharp. You have to be able to make the right play and get a goal there, especially when you have two. I think that's the (cause) of this loss. You have to be able to make a play. You have to have the right player with the puck on 5-on-3. You can't get a shot in the corner. You've got to score maybe not only one (5-on-3), but when you get two, come on. This is the most frustrating thing from this game."
The Devils realized they wasted an opportunity.
"There's no excuse," Brodeur told Gulitti. "We're in a position that we can't afford to let go any points. One point today regardless would have been really important. Buffalo lost today and it would have been good for us to get on the board today and get that ting down to seven at least, but that didn't happen."
The loss didn't dampen the Devils playoff dreams.
"It could be a costly loss, but we have to get back to the next one," Rolston said to Gulitti. "I don't think we're out of it, yet."