Success against Ottawa has helped put the New Jersey Devils in position to secure yet another Atlantic Division title. Most teams fared well versus the Senators before Cory Clouston took over.
The Devils have a chance to sweep their season series with the Senators and clinch their third division championship in four years Thursday night, but they visit a club that has won a franchise-record nine straight at home under Clouston's guidance.
New Jersey (49-27-4), third in the Eastern Conference, will finish first in the Atlantic by earning a point in one of its last two games or if Philadelphia loses one of its final three. The Devils are five points ahead of the second-place Flyers, who visit the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
But New Jersey has lost seven of its last nine (2-6-1) and is in desperate need of some momentum heading into the playoffs.
"Everybody around us is playing well and we have to figure a way to do the same," said Devils winger Jamie Langenbrunner, whose team concludes the regular season at home against Carolina on Saturday. "We have two games left and we have to find a way to win both of those."
A matchup with Ottawa (36-34-10) may help New Jersey get back on track. The Devils have won five straight versus the Senators since a 4-1 home loss Oct. 27, 2007.
However, New Jersey's three wins in this season's series came before Clouston took over as Ottawa's coach Feb. 2, when Craig Hartsburg was fired. Clouston has changed the Senators' fortunes, and the team made a commitment to him for next season after removing his interim tag Wednesday and signing him to a two-year deal.
Though the Senators will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season, they have gone 19-10-3 under Clouston and their nine-game run at home is the longest in franchise history. Ottawa won eight in a row during the 2002-03 season.
The Senators' latest win at Scotiabank Place was perhaps their most impressive, beating East-leading Boston 3-2 on Tuesday night.
"I just wanted the opportunity to continue what we started here," Clouston said. "I think the biggest thing that I'm looking forward to, and it's a long way away from now, is getting the next season started. How we're playing right now gives us a lot of optimism."
Ottawa has won three straight overall, with its top goal scorer heating up. Dany Heatley has 38 goals on the season, three in his last two games.
Heatley, though, has been held without a point in his last six games against New Jersey, facing Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in three of those contests.
Brodeur, who returned in late February after missing 50 games following left elbow surgery, is essential to New Jersey's hopes of making a run in the playoffs. The veteran, though, has given up at least four goals in four of his last eight starts and has a 3.56 goals-against average in his last nine games.
The Devils outshot Toronto 48-18 on Tuesday night, but Brodeur struggled as New Jersey lost 4-1.
Langenbrunner was a bright spot for the Devils, scoring his 29th goal to extend his point streak to three games (four goals, one assist). The veteran winger has three goals and an assist in three games against the Senators this season.
New Jersey hasn't swept the season series since winning all three meetings in 1994-95.