NEWARK, N.J. -- For the Ducks, their victory Sunday night proved to be another exhibit in their case to be considered the League's best team. For the Devils, their elimination from Stanley Cup Playoff contention came in an all too familiar manner.
Anaheim, at the end of a five-game, nine-day road trip, gutted out a 2-1 victory on the strength of goals from center Ryan Kesler and defenseman Francois Beauchemin and the brilliant goaltending of John Gibson, who made 26 saves.
The Ducks (49-22-7), playing for the third time in four nights and in the final of a five-game road trip, did not have many chances to score, but made the most of one of the earliest ones making Devils goalie Cory Schneider (23 saves) the hard-luck loser.
"We weren’t really happy after the 7-2 and 5-3 losses in New York and Columbus, so we had a little bit of a regroup in Boston," said Beauchemin. "We had a couple of meetings and wanted to make sure we were back at our game, and make sure everybody knows what they’re doing. There are only a few games left before the playoffs, and we want to get that momentum going."
Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski started the opening-scoring sequence by gloving a pop-up style exit pass by New Jersey forward Patrik Elias and barely keep it in the zone. The ensuing slap shot was deflected by Kesler and then bounced off the ice before hopping over Schneider's shoulder.
The goal gave Kesler 20 for the season, marking the seventh time he has scored 20 goals in the NHL.
Ninety-nine seconds into the third period, Beauchemin sent a rising shot with Kesler creating traffic to Schneider's left. The puck deflected off the shoulder of New Jersey defenseman Jon Merrill before beating Schneider to near post. It is the first time Beauchemin has reached double-digit goals in the NHL.
"I thought it went off of Kesler’s shoulder," said Beauchemin. "Palmy [Kyle Palmieri] made a great play to go around the circle to set me up for the one-timer."
The Devils' offense once again deserted them. They mustered a late third-period goal by left wing Dainius Zubrus. The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have scored fewer goals than the 167 managed by New Jersey through 75 games. The Devils have scored two goals or fewer 48 times this season and have four goals in their current five-game losing streak. They have been shut out seven times.
The Devils were eliminated from playoff contention during the game when the Boston Bruins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1, in overtime. It marked the third consecutive season the Devils have not made the postseason. The Devils hadn't missed the playoffs three straight years since their five-year drought from the 1982-83 season to 1986-87.
The Devils, in fact, have missed the postseason in four of the past five seasons. In 2012, they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
Anaheim continued its trek toward the Presidents' Trophy. With a loss by the Nashville Predators earlier Sunday, the Ducks opened up a three-point lead on the Predators and the Montreal Canadiens, who were idle. The New York Rangers, who lost to the Washington Capitals, are four points behind in the race for the League's best record.
"It’s all about the little details in the game. Getting pucks out – off the glass if you need to – and making short passes instead of long cross-ice passes," said Beauchemin. "Those don’t really get through anymore as you get closer to the playoffs. Teams are playing too well defensively."
The Ducks, who went 3-2 on the road trip, have four games remaining; three at home. None of their remaining opponents presently hold a playoff spot.