The New Jersey Devils needed just one goal to earn a victory in their last game, but their offense could have a better showing tonight when they host the floundering Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center.
The Devils posted a 1-0 win Tuesday in Ottawa thanks to a 34-save shutout from Johan Hedberg and the 400th goal of Ilya Kovalchuk's career. The victory pushed New Jersey's lead for the sixth seed in the East to five points over the Senators, who also play tonight in Montreal. New Jersey is also five behind fifth-seeded Philadelphia, which is idle this evening.
Tonight, the Devils host a Toronto club that has allowed 13 goals over a two- game slide. The Maple Leafs, who have played themselves out of the postseason conversation with a 4-15-2 record in their last 21 games, were slammed in Boston by an 8-0 score on Monday and were then dealt a 5-2 loss the following night against the visiting New York Islanders.
Toronto is nine points out of the East's final playoff spot with just eight games left on its schedule and appears headed for its seventh straight year without a postseason.
The Devils have taken two of three meetings with Toronto this season, winning the last two encounters in overtime. New Jersey has claimed four of five in this series overall, but the Leafs have won two of their last three tilts in the Garden State.
Hedberg recorded his fourth shutout of the season on Tuesday, stopping 15 shots in the first and 19 more over the final two periods to help the Devils to the victory in Ottawa. It was a much-needed win for New Jersey, which entered the game having lost two in a row and three out of four.
Kovalchuk's milestone goal and game-winner came with 2:40 remaining in the second period. It was the Russian star's team-leading 31st goal of the season and his fifth game-winning tally.
"We just want to finish the season strong and play our best hockey," Kovalchuk said after the victory.
Beginning with tonight's test, the Devils are playing three of their next four games at home. New Jersey has a solid 20-13-3 record at the Rock this season. Toronto, meanwhile, is 16-20-2 on the road and has lost four of its last six away from home.
The Maple Leafs held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 over the Islanders on Tuesday, but New York tied the game at 2-2 by the end of the second period and then scored three unanswered markers in the final 20 minutes.
Phil Kessel and Matthew Lombardi tallied goals for Toronto, which lost for the seventh time in nine games. James Reimer gave up four goals on 33 shots in defeat.
"I asked a few questions after the game on how they felt," said Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle. "I was just listening to what they had to say, I wasn't asking the questions. They were displeased with the way they played tonight."
After tonight's contest, the Leafs will begin a four-game homestand with Saturday's test against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.