A productive if imperfect road trip might have helped the New Jersey Devils begin rediscovering their early-season form.
The return of goalie Tristan Jarry on Friday night might have given the Pittsburgh Penguins a clearer path to one of the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.
A pair of longtime rivals looking to maintain their momentum are slated to meet on Sunday afternoon, when the Devils host the Penguins for the first time this season in Newark, N.J.
The Devils haven’t played since Thursday night, when they completed a five-game road trip by falling to the Seattle Kraken 4-3 in overtime.
The Penguins won the back end of a home-and-home set with the Ottawa Senators on Friday, when Jarry made 44 saves in a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh.
The loss prevented the Devils from enjoying a perfect road trip, but going 4-0-1 against the division rival Carolina Hurricanes and a trio of Pacific Division opponents allowed New Jersey to reassert itself near the top of the Metropolitan standings.
The Devils, who raced out to a 21-4-1 start that included a 13-game winning streak from Oct. 25- Nov. 21, lost 10 of 14 games (4-8-2) before embarking upon the season-long road trip on Jan. 10.
New Jersey began the trek four points behind the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan and seven points ahead of the Penguins and New York Islanders in the race for the final wild-card spot. Entering Saturday, the Devils were two points behind Carolina and 11 clear of the Islanders, who fell into ninth place in the East by virtue of Pittsburgh’s win on Friday.
Head coach Lindy Ruff was content with the ground gained by the Devils, though he felt Thursday’s loss might have been overdue. New Jersey overcame deficits in three of their first four wins and fell behind 2-0 against the Kraken.
“Turns out to be a good trip,” Ruff said. “You’re happy anytime you can get that many points. We’re not happy with the way we’re playing. Lost too many battles and gave up too many situations that were preventable. I think it finally caught up with us tonight.”
The Penguins were glad to catch up Friday with Jarry after he missed more than two weeks with a lower-body injury suffered during the Winter Classic against the Bruins on Jan. 2.
Jarry, who lost his previous three starts before the Winter Classic, looked fresh Friday, when he finished one save shy of tying his career high of 45 saves. He stopped all 19 shots he faced in the third after Brady Tkachuk scored with 1:05 left in the second.
“I thought I was seeing the puck well,” Jarry said. “I’ve had a little bit of time off. Obviously, it’s never easy having to watch games and it’s never easy having to watch guys go out every night and give it their all and you can’t be out there with them.”
The win extended the Penguins’ point streak to three games (2-0-1) and further solidified their grip on the final wild-card spot. Pittsburgh has two games in hand on the Islanders, who were in a 1-4-3 skid entering Saturday night’s game against the Hurricanes.
–Field Level Media