As thrilled as the New Jersey Devils are to have Mike Cammalleri return, the Ottawa Senators can't be happy it came in time for them to see him.
At least the Senators won't have to face Cammalleri for the rest of the regular season after closing a five-game trip Thursday night at New Jersey in a matchup of teams battling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
This game comes two days after Cammalleri's return coincided with the Devils' highest-scoring game since Christmas. The 13-year veteran remains the team's points leader (36) despite missing eight games with a hand injury, and New Jersey (23-19-5) scored only eight goals in the last seven.
"It's no secret we've struggled to score at times, so to add a guy with his talent and his nose for the net is a huge boost for our team," linemate Lee Stempniak said.
Cammalleri was back Tuesday, registering one assist and one shot, but his impact was clearly felt as New Jersey defeated Calgary 4-2. Stempniak had his first multipoint game since November.
"It was a big lift in the sense that, it's not just what he brings on the ice," coach John Hynes said. "There's a locker room element to the team that he brings, just his leadership and his moxie and understanding the game."
It was his first game since scoring twice in a 3-0 win in Ottawa on Dec. 30. He also had three assists there in a 5-4 shootout victory Oct. 22. Cammalleri has seven goals and six assists in his last 10 games against the Senators as his teams have gone 8-1-1, including 4-0 since joining the Devils.
This is the clubs' third and final meeting of the season. New Jersey is 5-1-1 in the last seven.
Both teams are seeking a third consecutive victory, something the Senators (22-18-6) haven't done since late November. They had lost nine of 10 on the road before beating two of the West's top teams, 5-3 over Los Angeles on Saturday and 4-3 in a shootout at San Jose on Monday.
Ottawa trailed in the third period of both games.
''It's nice for us to know that when we get down a goal or two we're going to come back,'' said Zack Smith, whose short-handed goal on a penalty shot tied Monday's game with 5:31 left. ''It's almost the mentality we had last year where you just know you will tie it up at some point in the third and see what happens in overtime.''
That mentality helped the Senators earn a postseason berth with a 23-4-4 finish, and they're seeking a similar turnaround after a recent 5-10-1 funk dropped them out of playoff position. They're one point behind New Jersey for the East's final wild-card spot.
Only nine points separate second place from 13th place in the jumbled East standings.
''It seems every team around us keeps winning and every team is in the mix," Devils goalie Cory Schneider said.
Schneider kept New Jersey competitive during Cammalleri's absence. He has a 1.57 goals-against average in his last nine games, a stretch which began with his 36-save shutout of the Senators. He's 5-1-1 with a 1.39 GAA in seven career starts against them.
Counterpart Craig Anderson has won seven of eight against the Devils with a 1.37 GAA, including two shutouts in his last three.
It's unclear if Senators top goal scorer Mike Hoffman will play after leaving Monday's game when he crashed into the goal post. He's listed as day to day.