Anaheim, in the final game of a five-game, eight-day road trip, gutted out a 2-1 victory on the strength of goals from center Ryan Kesler and defenseman Francois Beauchemin and the brilliant goaltending of John Gibson, who made 26 saves.
The victory for Anaheim continued its trek toward the Presidents' Trophy. With a loss by the Nashville Predators earlier Sunday, the Ducks (49-22-7) opened up a three-point lead on the Predators and the Montreal Canadiens, who were idle. The New York Rangers, who lost to the Washington Capitals, are four points behind.
It also was a statement game for them in a way. The Ducks started the trip with back-to-back ugly losses to the Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets, but then took a comeback decision against the Boston Bruins, outlasted the desperate New York Islanders and beat a Devils team trying to extend the meaningful portion of its season one more game. They did it all in the span of 96 hours and allowed four goals in the process, winning three one-goal decisions.
"It was nice to see us just stick with things tonight," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "A lot of us didn't have our best game, for sure. Our goaltender played great and we found a way to win. That's what you need to do right now."
It's also what the Ducks will need to do in the playoffs. These games now are seen as a litmus test for where they stand in that regard. Are they a championship-caliber team? Can they do the things winning teams need to do in the playoffs?
That may remain to be seen, but the Ducks like what they have accomplished since a players-only meeting following a 5-3 loss to Columbus last Tuesday.
"You can do all the talking you want, but if you don't go out there and prove it, it doesn't mean anything," Gibson said. "We just said enough talking. We need to go out there and play and that is what we did."
The Ducks have four games remaining; three at home. None of their remaining opponents presently hold a playoff spot.
But, they are not looking that far ahead. The Ducks are focused on the present, not the potential for a Presidents' Trophy or what the first-round matchups may hold. They are looking at the immediate results, like the grind-it-out win against the Devils.
"You need to win games on the road and be good at home and now our test is going back home and making that building a tough place to go into heading into the playoffs," said Kesler, who scored the game-opening goal and created havoc around the net on the winner. "We just want to finish season strong and go in on a high note."
The Devils (31-33-12) have six games remaining, but they mean nothing in the race to the playoffs for New Jersey, which missed the postseason for the third consecutive season.
"It certainly is not a good feeling by any means," said co-coach Lou Lamoriello, who is also the general manager. "It's a reality, and right now you can't dwell on it."
The Devils hadn't missed the playoffs three straight years since their five-year drought from the 1982-83 season to 1986-87, but they have missed the postseason in four of the past five seasons. In 2012, they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
This season, it was the Devils offense that deserted them for the most part. Sunday was further illustration of the offensive woes that have plagued them.
"Gibby is probably one of the main reasons we won tonight," said Kesler, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the seventh time when he deflected a James Wisniewski slap shot with 2:53 remaining in the first period.
But the Devils have struggled to score against many goalies this season.
The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have scored fewer goals than the 167 managed by New Jersey through its first 76 games. The Devils have scored two goals or fewer 48 times this season and have four goals in their current five-game losing streak. They have been shut out seven times.
Despite his team's elimination, Lamoriello insisted the Devils would continue to approach the remaining games in the most competitive manner possible.
"There's disappointment when you know you are not in the playoffs, whether it is official or unofficial," he said. "But that is not going to get in the way of checking any responsibility that each and every one of us have."