Senators can deny Devils again

The New Jersey Devils have lost in regulation just three times over the last nine weeks, but one of those was to Thursday's opponent, the Ottawa Senators.

The New Jersey Devils continue to rise in the standings, having lost just twice in their last 17 games.

The most recent of those losses, though, came to the last-place Ottawa Senators.

Looking to avenge that defeat, the visiting Devils will try to continue their improbable run toward a playoff spot and get a season split with the Senators on Thursday night.

Eastern standings, 7th to 12th

Here's a look at the standings, with NONSO denoting non-shootout wins, the first tiebreaker in any standings tie in the NHL:

Rangers71 78 29 
Buffalo70 76 29 
Carolina7174 28 
New Jersey697030
Atlanta70 70 26 

Since they last played, the Devils have been overtaken by Toronto in the standings, but they have two games in hand on the Maple Leafs.

As of Jan. 8, New Jersey (33-32-4) sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 22 points — 16 behind Ottawa.

The Devils, however, have since gone 23-3-2 to move within six points of the East's eighth and final playoff spot with 13 games remaining.

"It's pretty amazing what we've accomplished," Martin Brodeur said after making 18 saves in a 4-2 win over Atlanta on Tuesday night. "We've got ourselves in a fun situation that every game counts now.

"Thirty, 40 games ago, it was how are we going to play the second half? Are we just going to kill time to finish the season? We definitely are a long way from where we want to be, but it's fun."

Brodeur's play has keyed the Devils' run, going 15-2-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average in his last 18 games.

His only loss in 11 starts since the All-Star break came against the Senators on March 8, when rookie Erik Condra scored his second goal of the game with 2:13 remaining to give Ottawa a 2-1 victory.

Brodeur had beaten the Senators six straight times before losing three of his last four against them. He's started all three of the teams' meetings this season, going 1-2-0 despite a 2.02 average.

New Jersey hasn't lost a season series to Ottawa since 2002-03.

Coach Jacques Lemaire's team, which has won eight of nine on the road, hopes his Devils don't get caught up in their recent success.

"You don't sit down and look and say, 'Hey we did good so far.' We know," Lemaire told the Devils' official website. "It's in the back of our minds, but we don't want to stay there and think about that or maybe try something else or take it easy or not work as hard."

The Senators (25-36-9) have replaced New Jersey at the bottom of the East.

They had won three straight — all by 2-1 scores — before allowing 11 goals while losing their last two, including a 5-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

"Obviously it's not the way you want to lose," goalie Craig Anderson said after Ottawa was outshot 41-22 by the Penguins. "When you get outshot 41 to whatever it is, that's not our game. The way we were winning games was playing a 2-1 gritty hockey game, taking away the other team's chances and capitalizing on our opportunities."

Anderson has won three straight versus the Devils and is 4-1-1 with a 2.27 average lifetime against them. He stopped 31 shots in the March 8 win.

But Anderson didn't practise Wednesday, and the Sens haven't yet said if he or Curtis McElhinney will get the call.

Ottawa's win earlier this month against the Devils is one of only three in the last 20 in which New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk failed to record a point. He scored Tuesday, giving him five goals and three assists in his last seven games.

Travis Zajac also had a goal against Atlanta, and he'll set a franchise record for consecutive games played Thursday at 389.

Ottawa has lost three straight at home, totaling two goals, and is 2-10-3 in its last 15 there.

Centre Jason Spezza went pointless Tuesday after notching five goals and eight assists in his previous 10 games.

With files from