Think Friday’s game against the Capitals at Prudential Center is a big one?
“That might be an understatement,” coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday.
With points in five straight (2-0-3) and six of their last seven (3-1-3), the Devils are alive in the postseason hunt. A regulation win Friday would be a significant boost and move them one point ahead of Washington in the standings.
DeBoer's club dropped a shootout in Buffalo on Tuesday, but the coach is confident about a rebound. As of Thursday, they were three points behind Columbus for the final wild card spot with the Blue Jackets set to visit Philadelphia on Thursday night.
"The one thing about our group, these guys have played pressure games before," DeBoer said "There’s multiple Stanley Cup winners in that room, there’s a bunch of guys who were in the Final two years ago. I’m not worried about the pressure overwhelming anybody in that room."
Cory Schneider will make his second straight start. He’s 1-1-0 against Washington this season with a 1.01 goals-against average and .964 save percentage.
"You’ve got to start with the teams in front of you,” Schneider said. "You can’t really think about the teams that are two or three (spots) ahead of you. You’ve got to worry about the one right in front of you. So here’s a chance to get ourselves past them and put the next team in our sights. We’ve been grinding out some points lately, not as many as maybe we might like, but points are points and we’re still in it.”
Schneider made 25 saves against the Sabres before stopping six of nine in the shootout. One point earned, one left on the table, but there’s no looking back with six games to go.
"You walk in the next day, you look at the standings and you’re only three points out,” he said. "I know some of the teams ahead of us have tougher schedules and they have to earn those points. Hey, if they beat those good teams and earn their points then, you know what, this wasn’t our year. But they could falter, they could stumble and as long as we keep banging some points, we’ll make it harder on them.”
• A full cage protected Jon Merrill's swollen right cheek at Thursday's practice. He was hit by a deflected Travis Hamonic slapshot at Long Island on Saturday.
"It's not fun," Merrill said. "It's tough to sleep, you can't eat anything. It's just not fun."
Merrill missed six games after getting hurt in his NHL debut on Nov. 3, but will be available Friday if needed.
Thursday's practice lines:
Tuomo Ruutu - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Adam Henrique - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner
Dainius Zubrus - Jacob Josefson - Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter - Tim Sestito - Steve Bernier / Mike Sislo
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky
Jon Merrill - Peter Harrold
Eric Gelinas - Adam Larsson