Devils get Schneider back for tough stretch

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As great as Taylor Hall has been – and those MVP discussions aren’t out of line – the New Jersey Devils have mainly been up-and-down lately. Consider this: since the calendar turned to 2018, the Devils have just an 11-12-1 record.

Such a mark is more impressive when you realize that Cory Schneider has only played five games, with all of them coming in January. They’ve even seen Keith Kinkaid get injured, too, pressing them to bring Eddie Lack into the fold.

Schneider, 31, hasn’t played since Jan. 23, and his work in January was bad enough that you wonder if he had been nursing that injury for some time.

So, really, they haven’t seen true Cory Schneider for a while.

That stinks, but the Devils should be glad they’re getting him back for March, as the road ahead could be bumpy. Take a look at the looming stretch, beginning with Schneider’s return tonight against a hungry Panthers team in Florida:

Thu, Mar 1 @ Florida
Fri, Mar 2 @ Carolina
Sun, Mar 4 vs Vegas
Tue, Mar 6 vs Montreal
Thu, Mar 8 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh

After that, the Devils will close out their regular season with six home games and two road contests, so the above run is where they need to really dig deep.

The Devils began this current three-game road trip by edging the Penguins 3-2 in regulation, but the next two nights should be even more interesting.

The Devils are already in a strong position to grab the first wild-card spot, if not push to make it into the Metro top three. Consider how much they might expand their lead with wins against the Panthers and Hurricanes:

First wild: Devils – 74 points, 63 games played
Second wild: Columbus – 69 points, 63 GP

Hurricanes: 65 points, 63 GP
Islanders: 65 points, 64 GP
Panthers: 64 points, 60 GP

Tonight, they face a Panthers team attempting to take advantage of considerable games in hand advantages over the other bubble squads. Tomorrow, they’ll face a Hurricanes team that has to be feeling pretty desperate amid a six-game losing streak. Not a bad way for the Devils to test themselves, right?

Being thrown into the fire like this could help Schneider get his game back. He’s been fine this season, particularly considering New Jersey’s live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword mentality, but you can bet he’d like to have a better save percentage than his .913 mark in 2017-18.

It’s easy to justify the hype about finally seeing Taylor Hall in a playoff series, yet Schneider must feel like he has something to prove, too. Despite a nice career on paper, he’s only appeared in 10 postseason contests so far.

Schneider gets a chance to gear up for a probable postseason, starting with tonight’s test against the Panthers. The next few weeks should tell us a lot about where Schneider and his team are at.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.