DEVILS (44-25-5) at FLYERS (37-32-6)
New Jersey 6-2-2; Philadelphia 2-6-2
Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Atlantic Division rivals. The Flyers have won four of the first five matchups, including sweeping a home-and-home in February by identical 3-2 scores. Simon Gagne scored the overtime winner on Feb. 10 at the Prudential Center. Jeff Carter leads all scorers with three goals.
The Devils clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth with their win over the Canadiens on Saturday. The Flyers are hanging on for dear life, decimated by injuries to their goaltenders and Carter, who is likely out for the rest of the regular season after having surgery to repair a fracture in his left foot. If Philadelphia doesn't get it into gear, there may not be a postseason for Carter to make a return.
For a 13th consecutive season, New Jersey will be a part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils also reclaimed first place in the Atlantic Division (by virtue of the first tiebreaker, fewer games played) by topping the Canadiens 4-2 in Montreal. Ilya Kovalchuk
assisted on a pair of goals and Martin Brodeur
stopped 25 shots for his League-leading 41st victory.
Brian Boucher is the last goaltender standing in Philadelphia, literally. The Flyers chose to give Johan Backlund
his first NHL start Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. Backlund acquitted himself well through two periods, stopping 22 of 24 shots, but he had to leave the game due to a groin injury. The Flyers were defeated 4-1, their sixth loss in seven games since Michael Leighton
joined Ray Emery on the list of fallen netminders.
"I don't think it's an easy situation, we're a team that's struggling right now," Gagne said. "You come here and play against a team like Pittsburgh that we all know has a lot of success against us."
Kovalchuk has two goals and three assists in the Devils' last two games. Patrik Elias
has a goal and four assists in the last two games. Jamie Langenbrunner has a goal and two assists in the last two games.
Emery's first season with the Flyers is over following hip surgery. Leighton would need a deep playoff run to return from his high left ankle sprain. Carter was expected to miss 3-4 weeks. There was no immediate timetable on Backlund. Defenseman Matt Carle
also missed Saturday's game with a bone bruise to his left foot.
Emery and Leighton were responsible for all four of Philadelphia's wins against New Jersey this season, each recording a pair. Boucher gave up four goals on 28 shots in his only start, a 4-1 loss at the Prudential Center on Dec. 12.
New Jersey and Pittsburgh each have 93 points -- the Devils have eight games remaining and the Penguins seven. Boston and Philadelphia each have 80 points, but the Flyers fall to eighth because they have played one more game than the Bruins. They are only two points in front of the ninth-place Thrashers, with each team having seven games left.