I can’t say tonight’s 1-0 win in Dallas was the most scintilating of our last nineteen games (of which we’re now 16-1-2) but thanks to the heroics of Johan Hedberg we managed to get two more crucial points, putting us within four games of .500 and nine points of a playoff spot after the Canes’ SO loss to the Rangers. Even in an ugly win, the Devils managed to continue some impressive streaks…for the team, their eighth win in a row. For Hedberg, his longest-ever winning streak and for Ilya Kovalchuk, the longest point-scoring streak of his career as he got an assist on Nick Palmeri‘s late third-period power play goal that decided the issue.
Despite the two points, coach Jacques Lemaire could barely conceal his disdain all day – and with good reason as it turned out. He ended a pregame skate prematurely and threatened lineup changes because of a bad couple of days of practice, and during the game it was all he could do to not yell at the players on the bench while being interviewed by Brian Engblom during the second period. Not to mention according to Engblom, Lemaire was still hopping mad after the second period and going hoarse from yelling at the team.
Sure you expect off nights from here and there under normal circumstances but this is far from a normal situation. With our precarious playoff position (the next two games are still critical for maintaining momentum before the trade deadline) the team really can’t afford to give away games. And if it wasn’t for Hedberg – and a mediocre Stars team – they probably would have given away at least one, if not two points tonight. As a good coach you need to stop complacency before it starts and Lemaire understands the desperation of the situation we’re in better than anyone.
Although Hedberg was the clear first star of the game, he got an assist on the goalline from defenseman Anton Volchenkov late in the second period when he stopped a puck with his knee in the crease. And if one thing worked for us today, it was the penalty kill, especially killing off a double minor from Patrik Elias midway through the second without so much as allowing a shot on net. In spite of our good penalty killing, most of the rest of the game was sloppiness and inefficiency personified. Ironically, it was Palmeri who probably had the worst miss of the game in the second period when Kovy drew two defensemen toward him and dished it off to a wide-open Palmeri but the rookie shot it wide of the net with Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen way out of his net to challenge the shot.
Still, the game dragged on without much in terms of excitement but plenty of suspense, but when it looked like both teams would start playing for the point and get to overtime the Devils won a couple of power play chances in the third period and finally capitalized on one of them through a broken play…or rather, a broken stick. Kovy tried to rip one of his patented slapshots toward the net but his stick snapped, perhaps making his shot more deflectable by Palmeri in front for a tip-in goal, as well as causing a distraction to Lehtonen with just 5:37 left in the game. Palmeri’s sixth goal of the season proved to be the only goal the Devils needed as Hedberg’s nineteen saves was enough to give the moose his second shutout in three games, as well as his seventh straight win.
Predictably the Rangers-Canes game turned out to be a three-point affair but in spite of that inconvenience the Devils pulled one more point closer to a playoff berth, now sitting nine points back just a month and a half after being 27 back, with a game in hand against the Canes as well. Of course our improving position isn’t going to matter much if the team doesn’t shake off the complacency it’s shown the last three days.