NHL five questions: are the New Jersey Devils done for?

USA TODAY Sports

We have some questions, as always, and we need them answered.

1. Is this the end of the line for New Jersey? The Eastern Conference champion Devils sit with 39 points, three out of eighth place, after a stretch of 0-3-3 in their last six games. Those games, coincidentally, happened right after the shoulder injury to star forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Tonight marks a game in hand the Devils have on the eighth seeded Islanders. They need to beat the Sabres, essentially, to keep their playoff hopes at the "realistic" level, rather than the "need a miracle" level Buffalo currently holds. Can they get a win and save their season?

2. What will a win (or a loss) to the Blues say about the Red Wings? Detroit seems to keep playing St. Louis at times in their season where, no matter what the result, people seem to see cause for evaluation afterwards. Everyone predicted the demise of the Wings after the 6-0 shellacking St. Louis laid on them opening night, then everyone realized Detroit would be okay after a 5-3 win in Motown 13 days later. A 4-3 comeback, overtime win by the Blues a couple weeks after that made everyone panic again. What does tonight's result say about the Wings?

3. Will the Sharks continue their impressive winning streak you haven't been paying attention to? Hey, you guys, the Sharks have won seven in a row. I know! I'm just as surprised as you are. The Sharks have been playing some truly excellent hockey, especially at home, and rumors of their demise appear to have been overstated. Or they're just an extremely streaky team. The Sharks are 13-1-4 at the Tank, so there's no reason to believe the streak stops today against Dallas.

4. So, does Ben Bishop give Tampa Bay a shot at the Southeast? The Lightning would appear to be a harmless 14th in the Eastern Conference upon initial inspection. Then you remember that they play in the Southeast, and the need for further research becomes apparent. They're six points out of the lead in that division, and they take on Washington tonight. The Bolts also have a game in hand on the Caps, so a win tonight for Ben Bishop and the Lightning would really give them a boost toward doing that.

5. What does the Freeway Faceoff look like with two elite teams? I don't think I can remember a point in time where Anaheim and Los Angeles meant a battle of two of the four best teams in the Western Conference. How about that? There has been long periods of mediocrity for both, with both teams ending up on the bubble before LA snuck in and... you know what happened. Southern California hockey fans deserve a rivalry with this much talent in it, and it looks like they'll get that tonight.

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