NEWARK, New Jersey — Nailing down the NHL's best regular-season record isn't the top priority for the Anaheim Ducks. Being ready for the postseason is.
John Gibson made 26 saves and the Ducks took another step to securing the NHL's best regular-season record with a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
"It's not even a thought in our minds at all," Ducks leading goal scorer Cory Perry said of the Presidents' Trophy. "We want to go into the playoffs on the right track, playing playoff hockey. It's not a focus. If it happens, fine, but we're not thinking of it."
The Ducks played a solid game against the Devils in closing out their five-game road trip with three straight wins.
Ryan Kesler and Francois Beauchemin scored and Gibson was outstanding in goal, getting a lot of help from his teammates.
"I made the saves when I had to. That's what I get paid to do," Gibson said. "We knew that they would be coming hard at us, but we just had to play our game. Just keep it simple. I'm a pretty laid-back guy. I like to sit back and enjoy the game as well. I'm trying to help the team win as much as I can."
The victory allowed the Ducks to open a three-point lead over Nashville and Montreal in the race for the best record. Anaheim has four games left in the regular season, one less than Predators and two fewer than the Canadiens.
"It was a good game for us," said Beauchemin, whose winner went into the net off the neck of Devils defenseman Jon Merrill. "Gibby made some big saves and we tried to keep the puck away from him as much as possible. I knew that they were going to come at us real hard and did so for the whole game. They had a lot of chances, but all game, Gibby was solid there. "
Dainius Zubrus spoiled Gibson's shutout bid with a goal in close with 3:25 left.
The loss was the fifth straight for the Devils, tying their season high. They were eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight year earlier in the day when Boston beat Carolina in overtime.
"It's certainly not a good feeling by any means," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "It's a reality. Right now, we can't dwell on it. We have six games left we have to focus in on and that's what we'll do."
Kesler got the Ducks on the board with 2:53 left in the opening period. Defenseman James Wisniewski made the play at the blue line, jumping to knock down a clearing attempt by Jordin Tootoo and taking a quick shot. Standing about 20 feet in front of Schneider, Kesler deflected the shot and it went high into the net and easily beat Cory Schneider, who had 23 saves.
Beauchemin got the winner early in the third period on a shot from the left point. It hit off the shoulder and neck Merrill, who had a cut under his ear after the game.
Kesler, who was standing in the crease with Merrill, was originally credited with the goal and it was later changed.
Zubrus got his fourth of the season in the waning seconds, deflecting a shot by Andy Greene past Gibson.
The Devils got a great chance to tie the game late when Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm was called for delay of game with about a minute to play. Scott Gomez hit the goalpost from the left circle and Gibson stopped Patrik Elias in close to preserve the win.
"It's no fun," Greene said after the Devils missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. "We've been in this limbo for a while (on the verge of missing the playoffs) and when it's official, it's no fun. We have quite a few games left and we'll play for pride and the organization, the fans and each of us and make sure we come out every game and treat it as our playoffs."
The Devils had at least six good scoring chances in the opening 40 minutes, but Gibson was outstanding in stopping all 22 shots. The 21-year-old had excellent stops in close on Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier in the opening period, and early in the second period, he moved to his left and stopped Henrique's shot at an open net with the help of Patrick Maroon.
Gibson also stopped an in-close rebound attempt by Stephen Gionta seven minutes into the period and he later came up with two stops on Mike Cammalleri and another on Stefan Matteau in close.
NOTES: Wisniewski has assists in three straight games, and in five of seven. ... Ducks LW Matt Beleskey (22 goals in 63 games) was scratched with a lower-body injury. ... Devils D Peter Harrold was back in the lineup after sitting out three straight. ... Gomez played in his 600th game with the Devils. ... The Ducks went 3-2 on their five-game road trip and play their next three at home.
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