Devils’ dream run interrupted by familiar nightmare

Sometimes I’ve heard the phrase ‘woman’s intuition’ to describe something that you feel in your gut and can’t explain why, it’s just there and more often than not the feeling turns out to be correct. Maybe for a man it’d be called a premonition, I don’t know…whatever it is I just really felt with every fiber in my body like I should avoid tonight’s Devils game in Ottawa. I don’t know why, there was no earthly reason to think Ottawa would shame us again, especially when I heard that Craig Anderson (a tormentor for us) was out with a hand injury and the immortal Curtis McElhinney would be in net tonight.

Maybe next time I’ll listen to my own premonitions. Oh, I did avoid the first fifteen minutes of this game since I was enjoying the weather and out at the mall though I could have gotten back in the car and listened to the radio. Unfortunately the roof didn’t start falling in until after I started listening to and watching the game as Ryan Shannon scored a power play goal in the final minute of the first period, Chris Neil scored in the first minute of the third and McEhlinney turned into the second coming of J.S. Giguere circa 2003, making 33 saves in what would turn out to be a 3-1 Devils loss. For all the good the Devils managed in their 22-3-2 run, they’ve practically undone it with two losses to a terrible Ottawa team in the last nine days where they could only muster a combined two goals.

Of course no matter how accurate my premonition turned out to be I just couldn’t avoid this game entirely. Not with what was on the line for the Devils – a chance to pull within four points of eighth-place Buffalo and complete a six-game stretch against non-playoff teams at 5-1 before getting into the death valley portion of our remaining twelve games. From what it sounded like via Matt Loughlin and Sherry Ross on the radio, the first ten minutes or so was a feeling out period with not much action until the Devils started peppering the former Duck scrub and making him look like so many goalies did in the first half of the season against us.

Then, back-to-back penalties by Patrik Elias and Anton Volchenkov gave the Sens lots of power play time towards the end of the first period, and eventually they took advantage when Shannon scored just after the short 5-on-3 expired. Perhaps the second period was the most maddening of all, as the Devils outshot the Sens 11-3 but still could not solve McElhinney. It’s proving about as hard for me to spell his name right as it was for us to get a goal on him tonight. Still, only being down one there was some reason to hope things would turn in the third, that we would continue to dominate and finally get a bounce that would turn the game.

Unfortunately that never happened…instead it was Ottawa who got a bounce when Neil scored at fifty-five seconds on a play where I still don’t know how Martin Brodeur lost the puck. It seemed to be a popup that spun out of his grasp, whatever the reason it was his second questionable game-losing goal against Ottawa in nine days. Perhaps we finally left February hero Johan Hedberg on the bench one day too long.

Although Colin White did score shortly after that, the goal was eventually waved off due to ‘incidental contact’ by Adam Mair. This is a hockey rule I still don’t understand…how can you wave off a goal on something that isn’t a penalty? By that theory a defenseman should always be able to throw a forward into his goalie and get a goal disallowed. To me either it should be a penalty (and it did look like Mair hit the goalie’s skate or pads before the puck got there) or it should be a goal.

Be that as it may, we did still have our chances in the third period, finally converting on a powerplay when Brian Rolston scored his thirteenth at 5:02 on (what else?) a slapshot from the blueline. Rookie Jacob Josefson and vet Elias got the assists on what turned out to be our lone goal of the night. And we’d have opportunities to tie the game after that, most notably when seconds after coming out of the box, Ilya Kovalchuk got sprung for a breakaway…but unlike the game against the Rangers a month ago, he would not convert on this golden opportunity to get a tie and perhaps at least a point out of this game. Instead, Neil put it away with an empty-netter in the final minute.

This loss was so crippling I’m barely upset at the Flyers’ continued tank job against all of the teams we need them to beat to continue our improbable run (losses to the Canes, Sabres, Rangers, Leafs and Thrashers twice, all in the last month). When the Panthers are giving you more help than the Flyers that’s just…telling. But whatever, they probably won’t have to worry about tanking much longer to keep us out of the playoffs if we have even a couple more losses. As it is, the Devils need to go 10-2 in their last twelve games just to get to ninety points and that might not even be enough.

That’s presuming we can even get to 90. When you lose twice in nine days to the worst team in the conference, then have to play the Caps, Blue Jackets, Bruins, Penguins and Sabres in your next five with the latter four being on the road…well you’re just not leaving yourself any margin for error. Realistically, if you can’t beat Ottawa one out of two games you probably don’t deserve to make the playoffs anyway. All along I’ve always been more reserved about our playoff chances than most, though it’s gotten to a point where I was starting to think some divine intervention was going in our favor I don’t think I lost sight as to just how improbable this run would be.

Still, hopefully the team cranks it up one more time and gives the fans at least a final glimmer of hope tomorrow night against a Caps team that was white-hot until Detroit finally dulled their long winning streak last night. I’ve taken this stretch in groups of games…as in I hope we’re alive through this homestand or going into the next homestand. If we’re fortunate enough to win tomorrow I’ll say well, I hope we’re still alive after our four-game road trip. Even then it won’t get any easier with home games against the Isles, Flyers (watch them crank it up for us if we’re still in it somehow by then) and Habs at home before their final four games at Pittsburgh, against Toronto, at the Garden and against the Bruins. But hey, at least we don’t have to play the Sens again since they love sticking it to us – see ’96, ’98, ’06 and this year with ’03 being the lone exception.

If this roller-coaster is going to come to an end tomorrow or on the upcoming trip, well at least the team made it fun for a couple of months in a season that was a death valley and with the younger players producing as well as having Kovy being fully assimilated, there’s even more hope for the future than ever. That’s for this offseason though – right now, tomorrow’s game is the season. Lose and it’s pretty much over realistically.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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