(AP) – While the Montreal Canadiens continue fading with their playoff seed in doubt, the New Jersey Devils are keeping their slim postseason hopes alive.
Montreal can give a little more clarity to the situation with a victory Saturday night when the teams meet in New Jersey.
The Devils (36-36-5) must win their remaining five games and receive plenty of help to leapfrog three teams and make up the 10 points separating them from the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, currently occupied by the New York Rangers. Buffalo and New York each have 87 points, but the Sabres hold the tiebreaker for seventh place.
Patrik Elias recorded his eighth career hat trick Friday in a 4-2 win against East-leading Philadelphia as New Jersey staved off elimination.
“Mathematically, we’re still in,” Elias said. “We’re trying to play well, work hard and have fun. We’ll see where we’re at in five games.”
Brian Rolston assisted on all three of Elias’ goals, and Johan Hedberg made 34 saves in his first start since Feb. 25.
“We came out to compete,” Hedberg said. “We know we are most likely out of it. It would be easy to lay down. We have a lot of pride in the room and a coaching staff that won’t let us a relax for a second. The organization has high expectations. Everybody in here wants to keep winning.”
While making the playoffs seems unlikely, the Devils may get a boost from forward Zach Parise, who is expected to return after missing 64 games following arthroscopic knee surgery in October. A four-time 30-goal scorer, Parise felt it was important to log some ice time before the season ends.
“Just for my own piece of mind – I’d rather have that first game this year than waiting until next season,” he told the NHL’s official website. “Ten or 11 months without playing a game would have been a long time.”
The Devils have won two of three matchups this season and nine of the last 11 overall against the Canadiens, who have lost four of their last five games.
Sixth-place Montreal (41-30-7) had its lead on the Rangers and Sabres trimmed to two points after a 6-2 loss Wednesday against Carolina. The ninth-place Hurricanes are just five points behind the Canadiens with one game in hand.
Once contending with Boston for the Northeast Division lead and considered a lock for the postseason, Montreal is in danger of falling farther down the standings without a turnaround in their remaining four games.
“We just were not ready mentally,” defenseman Roman Hamrlik said following Wednesday’s loss. “I don’t think we competed, and they outworked us tonight.”
Carey Price was pulled after the second period after allowing four goals. Price is just 1-5-0 with a 3.86 goals-against average in his last six starts, but he hasn’t received much offensive help of late. Of the Canadiens’ last four losses, three came in consecutive shutouts from March 22-26.
“I can’t blame the goalie,” coach Jacques Martin said. “I think it was more tonight where our defense, we made some mistakes that cost us.”
Mike Cammalleri scored for only the second time in his last 15 games, and P.K. Subban added his 12th goal.
Montreal has won its last two meetings in New Jersey, but the Canadiens are just 4-23-1 with four ties on the road against the Devils since March 29, 1994.