A Devils win against the Rangers on Thursday coupled with an Atlanta loss of any kind to Toronto would clinch New Jersey’s 13th straight appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Jacques Lemaire says the sooner, the better.
“It’s always better because every team that clinches a playoff spot, they get a weight off their back,” said the head coach. “Then they can start to focus on getting ready for the playoffs. It’s always a weight that you carry when you’re in the race.”
When asked about the obstacles the Devils have overcome this season, Lemaire downplayed the impact of injuries. Patrik Elias
, David Clarkson
, Paul Martin and Dainius Zubrus
each missed significant time this year, and the Devils didn’t have a fully healthy lineup until Martin’s return on March 17.
To Lemaire, though, the Devils haven’t faced any more adversity than anyone else.
“Maybe at the start of the season we got some breaks because we were working hard. That got us points,” he said. “The rest, every team gets it. They get a bad period, it’s the first period, it’s the second period. The power play’s not going, the power play is going. The penalty kill’s not good at a certain time; good after that. It’s every team.”
For now, Lemaire plans to see what develops from his lines with Elias between Zach Parise
and Jamie Langenbrunner, and Travis Zajac
centering Ilya Kovalchuk
and Brian Rolston.
“Travis is the guy, he’s going to help a lot to make plays for his wingers,” he said. “He’s going to help a lot to hold on to the puck to make plays for his winger. He’s going to help a lot defensively, he’s going to help a lot offensively. He’s a complete player.”
The Devils have so much talent in their top six forwards that the distinction between the first and second lines has become blurred.
“I think the two lines are good,” Lemaire said. “Our two top lines are good, and (either) could be the top line depending on the night.”
• Jay Pandolfo will be back in the lineup against the Rangers.
• The Devils had nine skaters and goaltender Yann Danis on the ice for Thursday’s optional morning skate: David Clarkson
, Rod Pelley, Vladimir Zharkov
, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Andrew Peters, and defensemen Andy Greene
, Mark Fraser, Anssi Salmela and Martin Skoula.