Zach Parise returned tonight to the Devils lineup after missing 65 games due to a torn meniscus. The injury forced him to have surgery and miss a majority of the season.
But on his comeback night, the Devils lackluster performance ended their chance to make the playoffs. Coach Jacques Lemair juggled lines all night long – something that actually may have hurt the team more than helped – but was trying to find the right combination with Parise back in the lineup. At some point, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk played with Parise, at other times Parise would be with paired with Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson.
Zach would play about 5 minutes each period and looked more and more comfortable each shift. Zach would later admit that he was surprised at how quickly the opposition was on top of him each time he touched the puck, but by the end of the game he felt much more comfortable and looked to be back in his typical mindset.
Parise’s return, however, was marred by the Devils truly poor performance. I cannot discredit Montreal’s play, all goals they scored were good goals, ones that any team would have trouble defending against.
But the Devils were sluggish on getting to the puck, they couldn’t complete a pass, and they were severely limited in the true number of scoring opportunities.
It’s a shame. At the beginning of the season if someone mentioned to me that the devils would be fighting for a playoff spot with only five games left in the season, I would have laughed. The Devils didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs at that time, sitting comfortably in the cellar of the NHL standings. But then passed the halfway point, captain Jamie Langenbrunner sent back to his former team in Dallas, and a coaching change from John MacLean to Lemair, the Devils showed life. And this wasn’t just a turn around from bad to not as bad, they went from bad to hot, going on a near franchise record winning streak.
But now, alas, with only a handful of games left, they sat in a do-or-die situation. Truthfully, even if the Devils did no wrong, their chances of making it into the playoffs was slim. Either the Rangers or the Sabres would need to lose every game in regulation. And Buffalo just got an Overtime Loss, so they would be out of reach of the Devils even if they had won.
Nevertheless, the Devils season will end on April 10th against the Boston Bruins with no possibility of post-season action. It is the first time the Devils have not made the playoffs since 1995-96, the season after the Devils won their first Stanley Cup.
It’s sad, as the Devils have spent the past 15 years becoming one of the most competitive teams in the NHL, making it into the playoffs and winning another two Stanley Cups. The past handful of seasons the Devils have struggled and even when they made it in to the playoffs, they didn’t spend much time there, but fact was they were a threat. Always.
I’ll end with this: the Devils didn’t end their chance to make the playoffs tonight against the Canadiens. They ended their chance back in October and November. The team had a near miraculous comeback, but in the end they could not correct the substantially poor first half of the season.