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Already rolling, Devils have great chance forthcoming

by Corey Masisak
If people think the New Jersey Devils have peaked during this current 19-2-2 run to scrape into the fringes of playoff contention, take a peak at their upcoming schedule.

The Devils have come from 27 points back of the postseason pace to being nine shy after a 2-1 overtime win against Pittsburgh on Friday night at Prudential Center -- and New Jersey is about to hit a soft spot in the schedule. The next six games for New Jersey are as follows: at N.Y. Islanders, vs. Ottawa, at Atlanta, vs. N.Y. Islanders, vs. Atlanta and at Ottawa.

"I don't know who or where we are playing beyond this weekend," Dainius Zubrus said Friday morning. "I know we play tonight and then an afternoon game on Long Island and that's it. I think that approach has worked very well for our team. A few months ago it was 40 games to go and now it is, what, 19 games to go? We still have to stay focused."

Added Colin White: "Every team at this time of year is playing playoff hockey. Players are playing for jobs next season on some [non-contending] teams."

Those three teams are currently 12th, 14th and 15th in the Eastern Conference. When Atlanta won in Toronto on Dec. 20, the Thrashers were in first place in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa was in 10th place after that day and only six points shy of the top eight.

Both teams have struggled since then. The Thrashers have lost 23 of their 30 games since that day and now sit one point clear of New Jersey for 12th place. The Senators have lost 22 of 30 since Dec. 20 to fall into last place in the East.

The Islanders have been much improved after a disastorous start. New York has gone 18-14-3 since that day, a 91-point pace over the course of a full season. That's only been good enough to move the Islanders up two spots in the NHL standings from 30th to 28th, but teams have taken notice of their strong play.

Still, there is some evidence of the Islanders losing their momentum. They've lost four of five games (though two were after regulation) as they rely on Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson in net.

New Jersey's next game against a team currently in playoff postition is Mar. 18 at Prudential Center with Washington in town. Between now and then, Buffalo will play five contests against postseason contenders (all on the road) and Toronto will see five contenders. Carolina has four days on inactivity and eventually two back-to-backs in a six-day span.

"It feels like one day we're up after a win and then the next day we don't and we're back down again," Martin Brodeur said.

The Devils have to take care of their own business, but they might finally start getting more help. Don't be surprised if that nine-point deficit between the Devils and eighth-place in the East is a little smaller when the Capitals come to Newark on the 18th -- and this miracle comeback could be for real if the gap is significantly smaller.
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