Most believe it will take a miracle for the Devils to avoid missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1996. Nine points out with nine games to go is a lot to overcome.

Ilya Kovalchuk believes in miracles, even though he has been conditioned for disappointment throughout his career. In eight NHL seasons, he has reached the playoffs just twice and won only one postseason game.

It seems inevitable that Kovalchuk will be at home watching the playoffs for the seventh time in nine seasons unless, as he says, the Devils run the table and get lots of help from teams they are chasing.

In order to finish 9-0, the $100 million left winger feels he may have to play his best hockey of the season.

"Everybody has to step up because hockey is not an individual sport," Kovalchuk said. "Especially these days. Everybody skates well and everybody is watching videos. It's really tough to do anything by yourself.

"It takes everybody's effort, but somebody has to lead, and I will try to do that for sure."

It is possible he will finish with fewer than 30 goals (he's got 27) for the first time since his rookie season with the Atlanta Thrashers. Then again, he is just as capable of carrying the team down the home stretch and reaching the 40-goal mark.

Kovalchuk is vital to the Devils' chances.

"I think so," center Travis Zajac said. "We need him to score goals for us, to make plays for us. Offensively he's our guy that's going to make that happen."