If the circumstances favored us on Thursday when the Devils shut out a Pens team without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, we had things up against us today. Facing our nemesis in Philly (who’d taken three of four from us so far this year), a team that’s leading the entire NHL with 67 points while we’re still fighting to get out of dead last. Not to mention we had backup Johan Hedberg in net for the first time in two weeks, since he got pulled after allowing two quick goals against that same team in that same city. To top that off, hot rookie Nick Palmeri sat out the game due to injury and we also lost top defenseman Colin White early in the game due to whatever-body injury.
Yet, the Devils overcame all that to pull off a 3-1 win that might have been the team’s most satisfying of the season. For starters, it was the team’s third straight win – as I’ve been harping on for a long time, a win streak of that long hadn’t occured since December of 2009. In addition, the Devils don’t have a regulation loss in their last six games, all since the halfway point of the season. You didn’t even roll your eyes when you heard Steve Cangelosi and Ken Daneyko whispering in the postgame about how the resurgent Devils may be the hottest team in the league right now.
Hedberg played well with 26 saves, many of the highlight-variety in the final two periods. Yes, I would have played Martin Brodeur myself, especially after his shutout Thursday – and after all, there’s really nothing to save Brodeur for this season (unlike prior years where I wanted him to sit more to have some gas in the tank for the playoffs). Thankfully Jacques Lemaire went with his own instinct and now Hedberg feels a part of the win streak as well, just like everyone else. Not to mention we don’t run Marty completely into the ground before the break, since today’s game was our fourth in a week’s time.
While other vets like Patrik Elias – two goals this afternoon – you sort of expected to turn it around, even guys like Henrik Tallinder and Brian Rolston (!) are contributing to the six-game result streak, with Tallinder getting a goal and an assist today in about twenty-six minutes of icetime. Rolston added two assists, giving the embattled vet eight points (two goals, six assists) in his last six games, which is nothing short of remarkable considering that Rolston had just five points in twenty-four games before this. Maybe putting him through waivers, which seemed like a fruitless exercise at the time, actually did have an upside?
Now the Devils are just four points back of the Isles for last place, with two games left before the All-Star break, a home tilt against Scott Clemmensen and the Panthers tomorrow (unbeaten in his three starts against us since leaving) and then a trip to Detroit against a team that suddenly has problems in net – exacerbated when the Isles blocked the Wings’ attempt to sign Evgeni Nabokov from Russia by putting in a claim for the former Sharks goaltender. Presumably Brodeur will be back in the net for those final two games as the Devils attempt to go into the break on the kind of high that seemed impossible just two weeks ago.
Of course, now the Devils’ resurgence has left yours truly with a dilemma. Do I go to the game tomorrow afternoon, with the Jets playing at 6:30? True, the hockey game itself wouldn’t overlap with the start of the AFC Championship since it starts at 3 but I would have to drive – something I’ve only done once since the move from the CAA – and pay for parking there in order to get home in time for the game (since the train wouldn’t get me home till 7:15, unless I left the game early). With as bad as the team’s played for much of the season I really do want to go now, especially since I’ve missed going to several games lately for a variety of reasons – blizzard, New Year’s eve stuff, selling my pair against Tampa in case the Jets were playing that day on Wild-Card weekend.
Then again, the only bad thing about going tomorrow – besides the hassle in getting in home on time for the game – is the fact that most Devils fans seem to be bitter football Giant fans who get jollies out of chanting ‘J-E-T-S suck suck suck’! Certainly the goofballs in the back of 208 were doing this on Thursday, as well as changing the ‘Rangers suck, Flyers swallow’ chant by substituting Sanchez for Flyers. Perhaps it was inevitable there’d be a confrontation at the end of Thursday’s 2-0 against the Pens, with an incensed season ticket holder behind me going up after the instigators, with another sth in the back row (one of the main antagonists) egging him to come on up.
Fortunately the sth at the end of my row (who’s also a Jets fan) held the other guy back to avoid any real fisticuffs but really if you’re coming to a Devils game and ragging on a team you know at least a good portion of the crowd likes, you’re just asking for trouble. And these guys are all sth’s, they’ve all been at the games since the team moved to the Rock so one way or the other, everyone’s gotta live with each other. I don’t care for the chants, but if people want to act like doofuses, fine by me just so long as they’re not in my face with it.
In any case, I don’t know how much hockey’s going to be on my mind tomorrow as the football game draws closer but I do know with two games left before the All-Star break I finally want to see this Devils team play. And that’s about as big an accomplishment as I could have hoped for out of the second half, at least intangibly. Tangibly, there’s a chance this team can still get to .500, as far away as that seems. It would take something like a 22-8-5 stretch to do it but with what I’ve seen in the last six games, why not?