NEWARK, N.J. -- Sweating out victories against the Lightning and Sabres hardly slaps a team-to-beat label on the New Jersey Devils.
The way things had been going recently though, those little victories mean a lot.
"It's getting back to winning ways," the Devils leading scorer, Zach Parise, told reporters after the win in Buffalo. "It's an important feeling for us. We've got to keep this going."
They'll get that chance tonight at the Prudential Center against a Maple Leafs team that coach Ron Wilson accused of "mailing it in" following a loss in Philadelphia this past Friday.
Losers of four of their past five and surrendering five goals or more in all of those defeats, the Leafs would hardly seem a threat to one of the potential powers of the Eastern Conference.
But following a struggling stretch in which the Devils lost six in a row, reaction in north Jersey varied from alarm to absurd.
It became so crazy that general manager Lou Lamoriello felt the need to issue a vote of confidence to coach Brent Sutter who hasn't exactly been a flop. In fact, if Sutter can coax one more win out of his team in its remaining three games, he will set a franchise record of 50 this season.
At the least, the modest win streak has stopped folks from thinking the Devils have gone to hell and the three-time Cup champs can get back to business.
If they can get a point from the Leafs tonight, they'll wrap up first in the Atlantic Division as the jockeying for first-round opponents continues below them. There's also the possibility of catching Washington for the conference second seed.
So while they weren't about to fall off anyone's radar as a serious contender when the post-season begins next week, there is a sense of relief that the Devils have regained their form.