Maple Leafs-Devils Preview
Though their matchup Saturday night is the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils will play until the fall, maybe only one of them truly wants to win it.
While it's clear the Devils' players want to close with a victory - especially with this possibly being Patrik Elias' finale - the Maple Leafs could have a much better chance for the draft's top overall pick if they lose in New Jersey.
''Drafting for our organization is very important,'' said Mike Babcock, capping a dreadful first season behind Toronto's bench. ''We've taken it on the chin all year so we can be set up for it. At the same time, we have to respect one another in the game and play it the right way.''
The Maple Leafs (29-41-11) will have a 20 percent chance of winning the draft lottery by finishing with the fewest points in the NHL. They're tied with Edmonton, which closes against Vancouver on Saturday. Toronto's odds for the No. 1 pick - likely to be Swiss center Auston Matthews - dip to 13.5 percent if the Oilers finish with a worse record. If the teams end up tied, Toronto gets the better lottery odds because Edmonton has more regulation wins.
As the Leafs miss the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons and third straight, the Devils (37-36-8) failed to qualify for a fourth consecutive year. They had the sixth-most points in the Eastern Conference through Feb. 14 but have since gone 8-15-1.
New Jersey was still mathematically alive last week but has lost four in a row. Yet, it sounds like the team is intent on closing on a positive note.
''We haven't played our best hockey, you've seen that the past few games,'' center Travis Zajac said. "... But I think when you look back, we've made some strides. We just gotta make sure we end it the right way."
Rookie Sergey Kalinin felt similarly following his first two-goal game in Thursday's 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
''It's nice for the emotion to score, but you don't want to lose. We have to win (Saturday),'' said Kalinin, who ended a 19-game goal drought.
While Kalinin is part of the Devils' future, this could be the swan song for Elias. The franchise's career leader with 1,022 points and 407 goals turns 40 next week and his contract is set to expire.
Elias has played just 15 games this season and two since coming back from knee surgery, so it's unclear if he wants to return or retire. He's spent all 20 of his seasons with New Jersey.
He's likely to receive some sort of tribute from the Prudential Center crowd, as will former general manager Lou Lamoriello. This is his first game back in New Jersey since becoming Toronto's GM after being the architect of three Stanley Cup-winning teams for the Devils.
New Jersey could have a 30-goal scorer for the first time since 2011-12, with Kyle Palmieri at 29 and Adam Henrique 28, despite ranking last with 2.19 per game. Toronto isn't far ahead at 2.36 and doesn't have anyone who has even reached 20 goals.
The Devils lost 3-2 in shootouts in both meetings this season but are 4-0-4 in the last eight. The only one Cory Schneider didn't start was the most recent Feb. 4, posting a 1.64 goals-against average in the other seven.
Schneider is seeking a career-high 27th win but has lost his last six starts and nine of 10 with a 3.13 GAA.