The New Jersey Devils took care of business on Sunday afternoon, dropping the Florida Panthers, 2-1, at the BankAtlantic Center.
David Clarkson and Brian Rolston scored for the Devils, who rebounded from Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning to improve to 17-2-2 in their last 21 games. Goaltender Martin Brodeur made 25 saves to earn the victory. It was Brodeur's first start since Feb. 6.
The win enabled the Devils to move within nine points of the Carolina Hurricanes for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining.
With the NHL trade deadline looming on Monday at 3 p.m., there was no question that this was a must-win game for New Jersey. And now that the Devils have won, it will be interesting to see how general manager Lou Lamoriello proceeds from here.
Jason Arnott, Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg will all be free agents at the end of the season, and would be the three likely candidates to be moved should Lamoriello decide to be a seller. However, if he decides to be a buyer, Lamoriello could elect to try and acquire a piece or two to help the Devils' continue their playoff push.
When asked if he'd like to see this current group stay together past the trade deadline on the MSG-Plus postgame show, head coach Jacques Lemaire responded: "They'll stay together."
The next key date for the Devils after the deadline is Wednesday, when injured superstar Zach Parise will find out from doctors whether or not he is healthy enough to begin skating. Parise may turn out to be New Jersey's biggest addition if he can return to the lineup before the end of the season.
Despite falling to Tampa Bay and seeing their eight-game winning streak snapped in the process, the Devils managed to go 3-1 on their four-game roadtrip after fending off the Panthers.
"We battled," Lemaire said. "We played to win all the games. We made some mistakes, but who doesn't. We're not a perfect team either so you have to accept some of the mistakes and try to correct them and be better next time."
The Devils (27-31-4) remain in 13th place in the East, one point behind Florida. Their next game is against the Lightning on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.
Lemaire said before Friday's game that the Devils can only afford to lose four more games all season. They've already dropped one.
So, with that in mind, if they go 17-3 (16-2-2 also works) the rest of the way, they'd reach 92 points.
That would probably get them in the playoffs.