The phrase "well, at least they got a point" is starting to mean something very different for these Devils. Tonight, it was more about the point not earned, much like last night's loss to the Lightning. As the playoffs approach (very quickly, might I add), it's becoming apparent that qualifying for the postseason isn't as much of a sure thing as previously thought. Some thoughts...
Points on the table: In the spirit of Schoolboy Q's "Hands on the Wheel," the Devils are really starting to temp fate here. They should have come away from this two-game trip with at least three points, but instead blew leads in the final 30 seconds both games. Tonight was a game that saw them play physical and play well for the most part and they were rewarded for it with two goals that came as a result of that work. The problem wasn't that the Devils took their foot off the gas. No, the Devils I think played too fast in the final minute. There's a reason why Pete DeBoer called a timeout with the Panthers' net empty. He wanted to the Devils to play calm, relaxed and smart, but instead they ended up running around in their own zone, chasing the puck and the Panthers were able to capitalize. As Steve Politi pointed out on Twitter after the game, the Devils have left at least eight to 10 points on the table this year, which is in direct opposition to the way they closed out games last season. Will those extra points come back to haunt them? It's too early to say. I still think they'll make the playoffs, but it could be a matter of seeding hurting the Devils in the first round. With the bottom of the East so tightly packed together, it's starting to look like six, seven and eight will be separated by two to four points -- points the Devils keep giving away.
Bad trend: As if giving away points wasn't bad enough, it's the trend of allowing a goal late in periods that has me really concerned. An obvious worry, I know, but what's concerning is that this hasn't just been a symbol of the Florida trip. The Devils allowed goals in the final minute of the second period in each the two games prior to this trip. I'm not sure if that's a coincidence, but I know that it doesn't look, sound, taste or smell like something a playoff team starts doing in the final month of the regular season. This is a veteran team with a good coach, so I'm not going to say the Devils are mailing in the final minute or looking forward to the locker room. What I will say is that the Devils' difficulty finishing in the offensive end appears to have seeped over into the other end of the ice, which is inexcusable. DeBoer has to figure out a way to stop this before it becomes even more of a nightly occurrence than it already is.
The best thing: Martin Brodeur did almost everything he could to pull this one out, which is impressive considering he played both parts of the back-to-back set for the first time in a long time. There were a couple times when Marty went side to side, reacting off a rebound or a deflected puck and looked about 12 years younger. Of course, on the game-tying and game-winning goals, Brodeur was a step slow getting across the crease, a sign that he's not going to "do it all" anymore. He's still a very good goalie and was the main reason the Panthers didn't put two or three goals into the back of the net in the second period, but he does still need some help -- help that should come from a responsible defensive team.
Power Play: The other positive from tonight's game was the power play, which seemed to build and improve with each opportunity before culminating with a goal on the Devils' fourth man advantage of the game. While the first power play of the game was awful, the second was (as Tom Gulitti tweeted) "not terrible." By the time the Devils got their third and fourth opportunities, they were throwing pucks at the net and getting some really good scoring chances. I liked seeing the point men put the puck in deep to players standing around the goal line. It allowed the Devils to get more shots on net but the direction of those shots (bad angles) often created rebounds in front for guys like David Clarkson and Steve Bernier to whack away at. I don't think New Jersey's figured out its power play just yet, but that was an encouraging sign.
Notes: Speaking of the power play, I like having Henrik Tallinder's shot back there while Ilya Kovalchuk is out. Smart move by DeBoer to give him some run on the power play. ... Boy, Steve Bernier had himself a heck of a game, didn't he? Two goals both in the "dirty areas" that came as a result of him forechecking on the first one and a great screen/deflection on the second. ... I don't think any one line is going to stick together for an extended period witht his roster. DeBoer seems to prefer to mix and match as much as possible to start the third period. ... In case you ever took Marty's stickhandling for granted, I'm betting Jacob Markstrom's adventure with the puck in the second period reminded you how much of a skill that can be for a goalie. On a related note: Are we done here with the stupid trapezoid or what? Can we just get rid of it already? ... Devils were a much more physical team tonight on the whole and it's something I'd expect to be more apparent once Dainius Zubrus is back in the lineup. ... Two Scottie Upshall questions: 1) We're SURE Scottie Upshall didn't touch that puck with a high stick? 2) Smart play by him to basically lay down on the puck in the slot with the net open. He saved a goal there. ... I'm starting to think Clarkson might be pressing for a contract. Just, you know, something that's been floating around in my head. ... Travis Zajac won the draw prior to the game-tying goal but it means nothing if the Devils can't corral the puck afterward.