Only two weeks ago, many were calling the Devils the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Now, they've lost five consecutive games and just as many are wondering whether they are headed for another first-round playoff exit.
Could it be that the Devils' players were caught up in the talk of a Stanley Cup?
"When things start to come too easy, we start to get little bit distracted and maybe we did that a little bit," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner admitted. "We were winning a lot of games and feeling pretty good about ourselves and started patting ourselves on the back a little too much and thinking about May and June instead of playing in March and April. It hasn't been a lack of effort. The effort's there. It's just the mind has been a little bit off."
What was an 11-point Atlantic Division lead over Philadelphia is down to six points and the Devils have only six regular season games to straighten themselves out.
They believe such adversity brings out the best in them.
"What this team has shown is when the adversity is at the most, we seem to rise to the occasion," Langenbrunner said. "It seems like we almost have to have our backs against the wall. It's disappointing because you want to play well all the time, but we put ourselves back in a situation where our backs are against the wall and we have to start fighting our way back out of it and maybe this can be one of those things that, like Marty's injury, will be a blessing in disguise a month from now."
That they went through a similar slide last season and ended up losing in five games to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs is a fresh reminder of what can happen if they don't turn it around soon. Langenbrunner is among those who don't like the comparisons to last season, though.
"It bothers me," he said. "I don't think any two situations are the same and I think it's unfair to everybody to say that. We put ourselves in a situation where we have to answer it now and we had a cushion that we were allowed to do this a little bit. Not that you want to do that. But there's stuff that creeps into games and it's happened to a lot of teams. It happened to Boston there for a while where they fell off for a little while and they made the push to get back over the hump. It happened to Detroit. It happened to San Jose. It happens to everyone."
The Devils realize, however, that the only way they can stop the talk about last season is to pull out of this slump and play well in the playoffs
"It's definitely not fun to hear it, but I think it's important to live and learn," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "We had experiences last year. If you don't take it in and learn from it, why go through adversity? You've got to learn from it. What happened last year was never brought to our attention. We just played and played through the playoffs. Then, after the fact, we hear this year that last year that's what we did.
"Now, we have six more games and we lost the last five. That's a tough situation to be in, but to me that's adversity that if we're able to come out of it, it could be helpful. You never want to create that adversity, but when it's there, it's important. That's the job of the coaches to bring it up to our attention."
The Devils can look back to what they did earlier this season as evidence that they can play better, but they know they must do it now or it their season could soon be over.
"This business is about what have you done for me the last two days, not about the whole season," Langenbrunner said. "That's the way it works, especially around here. That's the way it is and that's fine."
So, the turnaround has to start with Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh.
"It's all about performing. It's about competing and doing," Brodeur said. "You saw in practice today a lot of it was competing one-on-one in battles and driving to the net, doing different things that we got away from in the last few games. How quickly you're able to be good is how quickly you're able to be bad. That's where you have realize the things you do when it is going well. You have realize when it's not going well the reasons for it. You don't just sit tight. It's not that it happened for a game or two. When it's been for five games now, there's something to it. It's tough to get back to the basics and just play.
"It might not happen overnight. We can't just say, 'next game.' We've got to play well...It's going to be a big challenge. These guys (the Penguins) are the hottest team in the NHL. They're playing well and we won't be able to afford a mistake."