The top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will play their penultimate contest of the regular season when they visit the New Jersey Devils for Thursday's clash at Prudential Center.
The Pens are assured of the No. 1 seed in this year's Eastern Conference playoffs, but they can no longer win the Presidents' Trophy after Chicago clinched the NHL's best record with Wednesday's win over Edmonton.
Pittsburgh had won seven in a row before losing Tuesday's 4-2 decision to the visiting Buffalo Sabres. The setback dropped the Pens to 22-3 over their last 25 games.
Steve Ott netted the game-winner late in the third period to help the Sabres edge the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center. Jarome Iginla and Chris Kunitz each scored once in the loss, while Marc-Andre Fleury allowed three goals on 32 shots for Pittsburgh.
"This is a week before the playoffs, we want to be sharp and we want to have good habits and be playing that way and tonight, it wasn't," Iginla admitted.
Pittsburgh, which will cap its regular season on home ice Saturday against Carolina, has cruised to its Eastern Conference standing while playing at least part of the time without key players Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), James Neal (concussion), Paul Martin (hand surgery), Evgeni Malkin (upper body) and Kris Letang (illness).
Letang and Malkin were both back in action on Tuesday and Martin could also return before the end of the regular season. Neal also is close to returning to practice full-time, but Crosby is still sidelined indefinitely with the broken jaw he suffered on March 30 against the New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh is 18-5-0 as the road team this season, but has lost five of its last six games in New Jersey. The Devils are 2-1 against the Pens this season overall.
Despite winning the Eastern Conference title in last year's playoffs, the Devils will miss the postseason for the second time in three springs.
Nonetheless, New Jersey has won three of its last four games and is coming off Tuesday's 3-2 regulation win over playoff-bound Montreal. Martin Brodeur made 19 saves for the Devils, who received goals from Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson and Steve Sullivan.
New Jersey hurt Montreal's chances at capturing the Northeast Division title and avoided being swept in the three-game season series.
"We know we're a good team. It's unfortunate we missed the playoffs, but we still want to compete and prove we can play well," Brodeur said.
The Devils are 12-9-2 as the host this season and are playing their final game of the season at Prudential Center. Jersey will close the season on the road with Saturday's test against the New York Rangers.