Devils can't afford stumble vs. NHL-worst Avalanche

The New Jersey Devils' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. Coming out of their weeklong bye, they were on a 3-0-1 run that had them back on the fringe of postseason contention.

"It's difficult," left wing Taylor Hall said to NorthJersey.com. "When we played that game against Philadelphia (a 4-1 win on Jan. 21), that was their first game coming off their break and they probably didn't play as well as they wanted to. So, for us, it's going to be a challenge, I think, more mentally than anything just getting re-engaged."

"We can't really think about it," defenseman John Moore also said to NorthJersey.com. "We need to be there. It is the middle of February. I believe in the maturity of this group. I don't think they were screwing off this week."

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But after Sunday's 4-1 loss in which the San Jose Sharks blew their doors off, the Devils will find out Tuesday night if it was simply the level of competition that caused them a problem or if it was the bye week rust.

That's because New Jersey will face the Colorado Avalanche -- the worst team in the NHL -- at Prudential Center.

The Devils are five points back of the final wild-card spot in the East but have played one more game than the team that occupies that position, the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Devils are to make a run, now is the time -- six of their next seven games are on home ice.

"Where we are in the standings, I think we're all aware of it," right wing P.A. Parenteau told NorthJersey.com. "It's definitely a big week. We have to find a way to put a few in a row here and forget about (losing to San Jose) as soon as we can."

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are counting the days until the end of a nightmare season. Coach Patrick Roy quit in August and new coach Jared Bednar has gotten nothing out of his group. General manager Joe Sakic was scouting a recent game in Boston between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens and will likely take a look at prospects playing the Beanpot tournament.

Perhaps no one encapsulates Colorado's season like forward Joe Colborne, who had a hat trick in a season-opening win and didn't score again until Sunday in a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

"It's been a frustrating year so far," Colborne said to the Denver Post. "That's about the only way to describe it. ... I thought that after the first game, it was going to be off to the races there, and that just hasn't been the way it is."

If you're looking for a silver lining, the Avalanche held leads in their two recent losses to the Islanders and New York Rangers. The problem was penalties and subsequent penalty kills -- they allowed two power-play goals in the loss to the Islanders.

"Our penalties were what killed us early," Bednar said to the Denver Post. "We had a really good first period and a pretty good start to the second, too. Then we take some penalties. Obviously, we had the sort of needless, careless penalties -- one up-ice and then the needless, incidental high stick that puts us down 5-on-3, and they get a big goal there to take the lead. Then in the third, three more penalties, and they get a power-play goal and put it out of reach.

"We thought for some time now we've done a better job of staying out of the box. Because we did that, our penalty kill started to gain some traction, but ... six penalties is just way too many, and that's where they gained their traction, their momentum, on those power plays."