A lifeless start, a couple of bad penalty calls and suddenly the Devils were frustrated, losing and on their way to playoff elimination. All in all, a sad but fitting end (as far as playoff chances go) to a season that was flawed from the get-go. Some thoughts...
Two things: When you combine a lack or energy with some questionable officiating, you usually get one of two results. Sometimes the team will take on an "us against the world" mentality, snap out of their funk and go on a tear the rest of the game. That didn't happen today. Instead, the Devils went further into their shell and seemingly quit on the game and essentially their season. Even Martin Brodeur admitted that he felt his teammates gave up when things didn't go their way. The Devils basically mailed in the first period, negating to forecheck or apply any sort of offensive pressure on the Rangers. It was almost like the Devils came out assuming they were already eliminated from the playoffs. While it was a mathematical eventuality, it's still disconcerting to hear players after the game talk about how they knew it was just a matter of time. When you hear stuff like that, you can understand why you get a first period like the Devils had today.
Frustration: Two bench minors, Pete DeBoer's ejection and Patrik Elias gets called for unsportsmanlike while the Devils were on a power play. Oh, and that was after Elias went full hatchet mode on his stick while skating to and sitting on the bench. The Devils are normally a team that's pretty composed. They play with energy and guys like David Clarkson sometimes toe the line, but usually this an in-line group of players. We've seen DeBoer lose his cool before (right, Torts?), but to see Elias come completely unglued like that -- it tells you what was going through his head. I think there were players, like Elias, who had a lot more invested in the outcome of this game than some of his teammates and that's why he lost it. Obviously the officiating had a lot to do with, too, but I have to wonder if there's not a little schism in the room between players still believing in the postseason versus those that just wanted the year to end.
Lineup decisions: Before the game, DeBoer put Andrei Loktionov and Anton Volchenkov back in the lineup, taking Jacob Josefson and Mark Fayne out. One of those decisions paid off. The other gave up the third goal of the game. I get that DeBoer was concerned about it being a physical game and that Volchenkov's ability to block shots is very necessary against this Rangers team. However, I don't think taking Fayne out of the lineup makes the Devils better at all. If you want to put Volchenkov back in, then throw Tallinder a night in the sky, but not Fayne. Is it 20-20 hindsight to say? Yeah, it is, but that doesn't make it wrong now or before the game. I've made it clear I'm a huge fan of Pete DeBoer as a coach, but I think that he's made some very questionable lineup decisions this season that have cost the Devils wins. That's something he'll need to work on going into next season.
Facing the end: The Devils have three, mostly meaningless games left on the schedule. How will they play out the schedule? Will we see them play hard-nosed, tough hockey with a purpose? Or will they mail it in the way they did today? Whichever direction they go in will say a lot about the leadership behind the bench and in the room -- and it's not like they'll be playing patsies. The Devils have to face three playoff teams in Montreal, Pittsburgh and the Rangers again. You can bet they're going to see three efforts very similar to the one they went up against today. Regardless of whether Bryce Salvador is on the ice with them, the Devils need to hold themselves and each accountable for their games over the next week.
Notes: There was absolutely no reason to toss DeBoer. None. Other than the referee wanting to make a statement or put on a show, of course. There were 16 seconds left in an elimination game. You didn't expect the Devils to show emotion, ref? C'mon, man. ... Two of the Rangers' goals were a result of overpursuit in the defensive zone and an inability to rotate assignments instead of chasing the puck. It's been a problem all year and it's one of the main reasons the Devils won't be in the postseason this year. ... The first bench penalty apparently was due to a player, not DeBoer. David Clarkson admitted after the game it could've been for him. ... Regardless of who comes back next season, a full year of Loktionov and a healthy Ilya Kovalchuk will make the Devils a much better team. ... I get that Elias was frustrated, but you just can't take a penalty at that time, especially an unsportsmanlike conduct. You need every available second of even-strength or man-advantage play to at least attempt to come back. ... I'm still trying to figure out why Brodeur was diving for a poke check on Ryan Callahan's second goal. Why not just play the post and give him nothing to shoot at? It was Hedbergian display by Marty. ... Kovy said after the game he wasn't in pain and was just stretching when they showed him visibly wincing and rotating his shoulder. I sincerely hope so because if he's playing hurt at this point, it just seems foolish to me.