Severe scoring issues and a losing streak matching their longest of the season may have already cost the New Jersey Devils the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Things might not get much better for the Devils on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against a team that has dominated them this season - the archrival New York Rangers.
The Devils (42-27-7) have been outscored 14-3 in losing their last four games (0-3-1) - a slide which began March 19 with a 2-1 home shootout loss to the Rangers (39-26-11). New Jersey hasn't lost five in a row since a six-game skid from Nov. 2-14, 2000.
|The New Jersey Devils are mired in a four-game losing streak and will face a New York Rangers team tonight that they have not beaten in six games this season. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Prior to their current slide, the Devils were tied atop the East with Montreal and held a one-point lead on Pittsburgh for first in the Atlantic Division.
New Jersey has now dropped into a tie with Ottawa for fourth place in the conference. The Devils are also four points back of division-leading Pittsburgh and five behind the East-leading Canadiens, while only holding a two-point edge on the sixth-place Rangers.
The slump continued with consecutive losses at the hands of the Penguins - a 2-0 loss at home on Tuesday and a 7-1 road defeat Saturday.
"Right now we just have to stay with it," Devils left wing Patrick Elias said after Tuesday's loss. "I thought we played pretty good tonight and got better as the game went on. In the third, we had the game on our sticks. We created opportunities and shots. We have to stay with it. The puck will go in eventually."
That hasn't happened much against the Rangers, who have outscored New Jersey 14-5 while winning all six meetings this season.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist has helped win all of those games, compiling a 0.81 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and two shutouts - both at the Garden. He's been outstanding at home against New Jersey throughout his career, posting a 7-0-1 record and 1.10 GAA.
Lundqvist made 23 saves Tuesday before giving up the deciding goal in overtime as the Rangers fell 2-1 at home to Philadelphia. The defeat came six days after New York lost 4-3 in a shootout on the road to the Flyers.
The Rangers lead seventh-place Philadelphia by one point and are three ahead of Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
"I just worry about making the playoffs. That's the way I look at it," said Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, who has two goals and an assist in the last two games. "Of course you want to finish high, but first you have to make the playoffs. There are some teams now chasing us. That's OK."
The Rangers hope Scott Gomez - a member of the Devils from 1999-2007 before signing with New York as a free agent - can return to the lineup and help them get closer to their third consecutive playoff berth.
Gomez, the Rangers' leader with 67 points, also has a team-high five points this season against his former club. However, the center is nursing a rib injury that sidelined him Tuesday. He is considered day-to-day..
The teams face each other again in the regular-season finale April 6 at Newark, N.J.