Yesterday, we talked about the Devils had to stop worrying about what other teams were doing and just win a game. Well, that didn't happen. They didn't even get an overtime point and now likely have to go 6-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, which includes a two-game sweep of the Rangers in the final week.
So tonight, the Devils have no choice but to sit back and root for the other teams. The Senators are off tonight, but they're completely out of reach. The Islanders are not "untouchable" but they're a pretty difficult team to catch.
(Editor's note: Buffalo and Philly are only pictured because they haven't been mathematically eliminated -- yet. We'll see ya in October, fellas.)
The Devils were in rough shape entering play Thursday night. Then the Senators, Islanders and Jets won in regulation, making the six and seven seeds basically unreachable and adding yet another ROW to Winnipeg's already impossible number. Those wins, combined with New Jersey's regulation loss Wednesday, put the Devils hoping for a Jets collapse and a sweep of the two-game mini-series against the Rangers in the final week of the season. That of course assumes the Devils keep pace with the Rangers until that point, which brings me to my next point.
This leaves the Devils' regular-season finale (also against the Rangers) as the only game on the schedule with a "TBD" next to it. My guess is if these two teams are still in the same position in the standings in a week that game will end up on NBC as well.
I won't say the Devils "didn't deserve" to win that one, because that's not what happened tonight. Yes, the Devils allowed too many odd-man rushes and the offensive pressure and possession pretty much died in the third period. But the Devils also ran into a hot goaltender and were also the victim of some unfortunate bounces. All in all, it was a very good hockey game between two rivals fighting for the same land in the playoff landscape. Some thoughts...
Goalie class: First off, let me say that Johan Hedberg didn't play poorly at all. He played well, in fact. Hedberg was victimized by a bad bounce on one of the second goal and some
sloppy nonexistent coverage of the trailer on the first goal. Moose managed to keep the Devils in the game on several occasions and his glove work (particularly on Nash in the third) was just phenomenal. The problem with Hedberg is that he's not on Henrik Lundqvist's level and when a goalie not on Lundqvist's level runs into an elite goalie that's playing well, it usually doesn't end well. Right before the third and deciding goal for the Rangers, Lundqvist made about four or five strong saves that only a select group of goalies can make. Devils fans witnessed it for almost two decades with Martin Brodeur, so they know what elite goaltending looks like. There's no denying that Lundqvist was maybe the main reason tonight's game ended the way it did. The good news for the Devils is they're finally getting Brodeur back, possibly as early as Thursday. That will help the Devils even the playing field a bit when they match up with the Rangers, Canadiens and Bruins later on this season and potentially in the playoffs.
An impressive win by the Devils from almost start to finish against a division rival ripe for the picking, especially with the Rangers lacking two key players. There were three key factors to the win tonight, all of which I'll get into below...
Son of Clark: Somebody's about to get P.A.I.D. David Clarkson is an absolute beast this season and it's got me wondering what he would have done in an 82-game season. Would he be so sharp right off the jump or would he have had slumps or bad stretches in between streaks of dominant play? No matter though, because he's on pace for 37 goals and 64 points in a 48-game season. Seriously. Obviously those numbers won't keep up, but he's really taken his game to the next level this season, burying almost every chance he gets in front of the net in addition to being great along the boards and in all the dirty areas that Pete DeBoer loves so much. And he wouldn't be doing it without his partner in crime, the ageless Patrik Elias, who picked up three more assists this season. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and I have to wonder if Adam Henrique is a "missing piece" of sorts on this line -- someone that can finish plays set up by Elias and Clarkson's hard work behind the net and also create plays for the others with his speed and skill. As long as this line stays together -- and I see no reason why it wouldn't for the foreseeable future -- the Devils are going to be a bear to play against.
Who: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
When: 7:00 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 6:30 p.m. ET