Devs Playoffs Hopes Grow Dim

In order for the Devils to make the playoffs, everyone was predicting that in their last ten games they could only lose one more game. And even then there was no guarantee.

Tonight the Devils dropped to the Boston Bruins. They did not have a good game at all. Nerves were part of it, that’s certain. The Devils took five consecutive penalties, one of which gave the Bruins the go-ahead goal.

Things started well for the Devils who came out strong and positing Boston on their heals. Ilya Kovalchuk scored the first goal of the game at around the halfway point. But not more than five minutes later Boston’s Shawn Thornton tied things up and Boston appeared to have a leg up on the Devils. Prior to the goal being scored Boston only had three shots on goal and the Devils had over a dozen – a trend that has been going on for the Devils’past three games. But everything changed after that tying goal was made.

The second period had the Devils on their heals for the entire twenty minutes. If it had not been for Devils net minder Martin Brodeur, the score could have easily been much higher. The Devils defense could not gain control of the action, nor could they get a simple clear. This lead to some sloppy plays and four penalties taken by Mark Fayne, Nick Palmieri, Dainius Zubrus and David Steckle.

Nick Palmieri sat in the penalty box for only nine seconds until Boston’s Zdeno Chara put the puck past Brodeur; Chara’s goal would be credited as the game wining goal. By the end of the second period the shot disparity had shrunk and the Devils sat one shot ahead of Boston, 24 – 23.

Goal number three hurt the most, however, as the play began with a near game-tying goal by Ilya Kovalchuk. After the attempt, Boston was able to get the puck down the ice and immediately score a goal off the stick of Milan Lucic.

So where do the Devils stand at this juncture. Without even looking at the out-of-town scoreboard, since really the Devils have even less control over that than there own game play, the Devils playoffs chances have gone from “Believe in the Devils” to “Believe in a Miracle.”

Truth be told, the Devils play was not that of a playoff team. There was an over-abundance of bad penalties, there was a lack of scoring, and there was a significant drop in playing ability after the first 15 minutes of the first period. At that point the Devils never really recovered.

The only possible way the Devils can hope to get in to the playoff is to get a nine game winning streak. Possible, yes. Especially with the Devils miraculous streak that got them in to striking range of making the playoffs in the first place. The Devils need to be solid defensively, stick to simple, keep offensive pressure up and tight, and play with confidence. They can’t take bad penalties, and they can’t think past the current 60 minutes.

Devils Stop Small Skid, Blank Blue Jackets

Nick Palmeri and David Clarkson combined to score the three goals in this late afternoon’s matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Today’s win came off the heels of two consecutive losses in which the Devils playoff chances diminished significantly.

The Devils played a different game against the Columbus Blue Jackets then they had recently agains the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals, one in which they played confidently and without hesitation. Defense was a key to tonight’s game, limiting the Blue Jackets to only 13 shots, only two shots in the first period. One important key: any rebound left by Devils net minder Marty Brodeur was picked up quickly by their defense and not left for Columbus’ forecheckers to get a good scoring opportunity.

Clarkson, eager to get a hat trick but unable to get a breakaway attempt past Columbus’ net minder, figured on the Devils first two goals, which he admitted were some “garbage goals” but still count nonetheless. In fact it’s an important step for the Devils to get these kinds of breaks as they near the last few games of the season.

Nick Palmery scored on a simple forechecking play coming up on a Blue Jacket defender with the puck in front of their own net. Palmeri was able to poke the puck away, and seemed a little surprised when he had possession. He shot it past the Columbus goalie who was also a little surprised to see the shot headed towards him.

Both Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston rang shots off the post, again aiding the team in getting consistent scoring chances, something the Devils must continue to push for. This was the first game since early February in which the Devils had a lead higher than two goals. These past few weeks not only are nerve wracking but also give the Devils a very small margin of error in a game should they make a small misstep and their opponents take full advantage of it.

Their margin for error for their remaining last ten games is extremely small – and while there is no magic number since the teams in front of the Devils are a large variable to this equation – many predict that they can only have a single loss. They currently sit seven points out of a playoff spot, only four points out of ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Devils will have a single day off and will continue their week-long road trip on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins.

A Rant for Waverers

To be honest, I’m a little tired of the emotional roller coaster the Devils have put us fans through. We sat through 41 games of sheer horribleness. It was perhaps the worst slump of a competitive team in the history of all sports has ever gone through.

But then I read comments out there (of course not at DevilSphereDevilSphere.com because no one ever posts there!) and people are, as expected, jumping ship. “That’s it, the season’s over.” “It was nice while it lasted.” “I’m done with this team.”

And then I realize, guys, we are fans for a reason. Something out there compels us to support the Devils… uh, that’s the New Jersey Devils – just to be clear. Like it or not, watching your team through good times and bad is part of the deal. It’s a lot like marriage, when you think about it. When your team struggles, don’t just turn off the TV or walk out of the arena, you sit there and support them (support does include offering coaching advice from the couch or stands quite a distance away from where the players can actually hear you).

Think about the fortune we have had over the past 15 seasons. Since 1995, we have won 3 Stanley Cups – a feat some teams haven’t experienced even once. And since that time, we have only had a single season where we didn’t make it into the playoffs. Every other season we have made a push not just to get in to the playoffs, but do so by being one of the most competitive franchises in NHL history.

I really don’t think a lot of people get how fortunate we are as fans of the New Jersey Devils. Yes, this season was bad. Yes, they got our hopes up in the second half. And yes, things are looking grim for a playoff run right about now. But guess what? Look at the standings and tell me it is not mathematically possible. Look at the standings and tell me there is no possible way. Look at the standings, and tell me the Devils should just forfeit their remaining 11 games.

I am a fan of the New Jersey Devils, and until the final horn sounds on the final period of the season, I will not stop watching, I will not stop cheering, and I will not stop believing.

Are you a believer?

In the Stands: Section 129

This was a tough game to sit through. Even my coaching from above the ice in section 129 didn’t help to motivate the team. What’s even worse is that two consecutive losses puts a serious question mark on the Devils push to make it in to the playoffs. And to further compound the problem, Carolina and Toronto have both won a game since Thursday night to push ahead of the Devils and leave them behind in twelfth spot.

So what went wrong? Thankfully I can’t pin the blame on lack of trying. The Devils outshot the Capitals 33 to 12 – a season low for the Capitals. They threw a lot at the Capital net minder but the toughest shots they made on net were stopped.

The Devils then started to get a little flat-footed as they received a few power play opportunities and could not take advantage. In fact the past two games their power play has just looked dreadful – to the point where you wish they could decline the penalty like in football.

The loss put a damper on what has typically been a fun St. Patrick’s Day (or close enough) tradition for the past two seasons, Retro Night. The night was complete with old style graphics on the jumbotron, “hightlights” from the ’80s and early ’90s, and even former Devils Public Address announcer from the old Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines arena, Bob Arsena (who was a lockout casualty and retired).

The arena was packed with energy at the start of the game, but by the end of the second period, two goals by the Capitals, and an unproductive 4 minute power play, the fans let out boos to let the team know they were not pleased with there play.

Signs held up by fans reading “I Believe” disappeared by the start of the third period, with the most excitement coming from NJ Devil throwing t-shirts to fans.

The only comment on the players that I will make is that there were a number of plays in which the team looked like they had reverted back to their old style of play before the mid-way point this season. They were falling down at key moments, making a perfect pass to the opposing team, or worse yet just putting the puck into an empty spot on the ice leaving it behind for a Capital to pick up.

It looked just like it did earlier on in the season – they just didn’t get any breaks tonight. They tried, but couldn’t get anything going, as if they were holding on to their sticks too tight. Kovalchuk was at the heart of issues. While coach Lemair said he was just covered well by the opposing team, it didn’t look like he had his best night missing the puck at key opportunities and dropping passes just ahead or behind teammates. Fans cheered for only a handful of plays, one in which the puck bounced out of play on to the Devils bench and backup net minder Johan Hedberg caught the puck, Fans began to chant “Mooooose” with many thinking perhaps he should have gotten the start tonight.

The Devils didn’t just play poorly to concede a loss; the Capitals also played very well, with Ovechkin getting two assists and a +3 on their three goals scored. His line was out each time the Capitals got one past Brodeur.

Again, three losses in the past two weeks will certainly hurt the Devils chances of making the playoffs, especially as teams in front of them collect wins. If the Devils wish to push themselves into playoff contention, they are going to need to string a lot of wins together between now and the end of the season in just three weeks, 11 games, from tonight. Speculation states that they can only lose once more in regulation between now and the end of the season to really put themselves in contention of making the playoffs. But no math can truly predict what the end result will be.

For now, continue to believe. And hope. And pray.