While points in 12 of their last 13 games have put the Toronto Maple Leafs in a great position to snap a seven-season playoff drought, a nine-game slide by the New Jersey Devils has dropped them out of the playoff picture.
The Devils will try to avoid matching the longest losing streak in club history on Monday night when they battle the confident Maple Leafs.
New Jersey has gone 0-5-4 over its last nine, with each game coming minus forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who is out with a sprained right shoulder. Though the four post-regulation losses have kept the Devils from falling too far back, they come into play on Monday in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 40 points and six back of the eighth-seeded New York Rangers with seven games to play.
Two of those games are against the Rangers in New York: April 21 and 27 to close the regular season.
New Jersey will need to build some momentum ahead of those matchups and avoiding matching a club-record 10-game slide set from Oct. 14-Nov. 4, 1983 would be a good start.
The Devils certainly didn't lack chances to end their skid on Friday versus the Ottawa Senators, who they outshot 33-11, but the offense couldn't get anything past Sens goaltender Craig Anderson in a 2-0 loss.
Martin Brodeur made nine saves for the Devils, who have scored more than two goals just twice during their losing streak.
"The guys, offensively, are getting chances," Brodeur remarked. "They're getting shots, they're getting looks, but nothing's going in. I'm really disappointed with the result. What's not disappointing is the effort and the way we've been playing."
Getting Kovalchuk and his 10 goals in 32 games back would help, but his shoulder remains hindered and he is likely to miss his 10th game in a row tonight.
Also, defenseman Anton Volchenkov served the first of a four-game suspension on Friday for an illegal elbow versus Boston two days earlier, while fellow blueliner and captain Bryce Salvador sat out versus the Sens with a bruised wrist. He is doubtful for this game.
While New Jersey is in danger of missing the postseason for only the second time in the past 16 seasons, Toronto is in the driver's seat to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and snap the longest postseason drought in team history.
The Maple Leafs are 3-0-1 in their past four games and 8-1-4 over the previous 13, putting them squarely fifth overall in the East, three points up on the sixth-place Senators.
Toronto bested the Northeast Division-leading Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, scoring three times in the game's first 10:25 and four times on their first five shots in a 5-1 rout.
Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Jay McClement scored Toronto's first three goals and Dion Phaneuf added a late first-period goal. Phil Kessel also scored and added an assist, giving him five goals and eight points over his last four games.
James Reimer made 36 saves in the victory and James van Riemsdyk added a pair of assists.
"We're confident as a group in here," said Bozak. "We go into every game thinking we can win as long as we stick to our game and play the system we have in place."
The Maple Leafs have won three straight versus the Devils, including the first two meetings of this season. They notched a 2-1 victory in the most recent encounter on April 6 in New Jersey, getting 27 saves by Reimer and the winner from Bozak in the third period.
The Leafs home victory on March 4 over the Devils snapped a three-game series home slide, with all three setbacks having come in overtime.