It’s been a good news-bad news week for the Devils – the good news is they’re still in a playoff spot, two points and a game in hand up on the sixth place Blue Jackets, while they play the fifth-place Hurricanes tonight at the Rock in the first of four monumental head-to-head games down the stretch. The bad news is you can add Brian Boyle and recent callup John Quenneville to the walking wounded now, as both missed Tuesday’s dramatic comeback in Philly due to different ailments. Plus, the margin for error’s even slimmer after a lost weekend where they inexcusably no-showed in Columbus, followed by yet another maddening ‘find a way to lose’ game against the Bruins at the Rock on Sunday.
I was at my low ebb on Sunday for the season, already mad at the 6-1 no-show against another bubble team in Columbus on Saturday (that wasn’t even that close), I was not in the mood for the self-inflicted nonsense which torpedoed us against the Bruins. A powerless play that literally went -2 for 7 – failing to score in seven power play chances and giving up two shorthanded goals on top of it! Two own goals conceded and another clunker at the end of the first period that might as well have been an own goal where all backup goalie Eddie Lack had to do was paddle the puck over to Taylor Hall and the period would have been over.
But he hesitated, spin-o-ramaed the puck in back of the net and a streaking Tim Schaller took advantage – taking the puck and beating the hapless goaltender with a craparound goal that wasn’t even called a goal on the ice at first, yet somehow it went to review with the call on the ice a goal after Bruin players celebrating sold the goal call. While I admit I wasn’t looking closely at the one replay they did show at the arena, I was too annoyed at Lack for botching the play to really care that we were once again getting screwed on a review. Of course any review where this league has a chance to screw us they do, and if you want transparency then show the angle of the play that caused you to uphold the goal call (and they did specify that ‘replays showed the puck in the net’). Even if one exists, no TV replays on the local telecast shows that. Which just feeds into the narrative the league’s out to get us.
Especially when you consider all the injuries and attempted injuries against the Devils where fouls are committed that somehow get missed, yet we get thumbed on either retaliation or some other stupid crap the refs always seem to miss when the other team does it – with the Brad Marchand hit on Marcus Johansson a few weeks ago tops on that list. Or a couple of different instances in the Flyers game on Tuesday – Travis Zajac gets clipped with a Flyers stick but we can’t call a double minor penalty cause the Devils stick allegedly lifted the Flyers stick (it didn’t) and caused the cut. Miles Wood gets slashed on the ankle without the puck in open-ice and three blind mice are officiating, not making a call. Which looks even worse considering Chris Rooney was the ref on Tuesday, he alone has been involved in a number of contreversial games where a ton of big calls all seem to go against the Devils.
Still, most of my ire over the last week has been directed solely at the Devils. In spite of the league’s contreversial review (the refs themselves actually called a fair game for once on Sunday), the Devils had their own opportunities to beat one of the beasts of the East and squelched them all. Starting with Mirco Mueller having a dumpster fire of a first period – culminating in the first own goal – that immediately sent him back to the scratch box after one game and the Lack goal that put us behind again at the end of the first period. Not to mention giving up a power play goal after a mere three seconds while we couldn’t score in over ten minutes on the man advantage, or Drew Stafford’s beautiful deflection past Lack in the third period for the second own-goal of the night, Sunday was just a not very enjoyable night from start to finish. I was as angry at the team as I’ve been since the hideous blown three-goal lead in Game 3 of the 2012 playoffs against the Panthers.
I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the start of Tuesday’s game in Philly against another team we’re fighting with for a playoff spot/seeding. After fifteen minutes it looked like a sound decision as the Devils were outshot 13-4 and behind again, with another hideous early Keith Kinkaid goal allowed. In fact the first time I even bothered to tune on the game was shortly after Hall’s tying goal in the second period that inexplicably needed to be reviewed – clearly in the net, clearly without goaltender interference or offside, even this goal somehow became unneeded drama. My reaction was incredulous on the very first replay…THIS is what they’re reviewing?! Of course soon after the goal counted we gave it right back anyway when a 5 MPH deflection somehow slithered past Kinkaid, and I turned it off again. Not quite for good, though when I did turn it on in the third period we were still behind a goal – only it was 4-3 instead of 2-1 in what turned out to be a wild second period.
Seeing that we scored three goals in the second period and were still behind, then watching us fail to score for most of the third period just increased my ire that much more. I wasn’t interested in excuses, posts, Corsi, none of that was going to matter with yet another regulation loss to a bubble team which would have left us tied for the final wild card spot. Our powerless play again petered out in the clutch failing on a late third period chance, and it seemed just a matter of time for the coup de grace when we emptied the net, since these empty-net situations never really pan out for us and always seem to pan out for other teams against us. I was readying the knives for the rant to end all rants, after being too beside myself to bother last weekend.
Then finally, the worm turned thanks to should-be (but won’t be) Hart candidate Hall, who scored off a rebound with 81 seconds left in regulation, tying the game at 4. Despite some anxious moments, and another monumental brain cramp from John Moore when he skated out the overtime in the offensive zone without putting a shot on net, the comeback would not be in vein this time. After another hideous start Kinkaid finally settled down late and stopped all three Flyer attempts in the shootout, while Stafford of all people scored the winner. He’s basically become our modern-day Viktor Kozlov, useless everywhere else except the shootout.
Even now I’m a bit bemused and worried the momentum swing we got from Tuesday’s game won’t stick tonight against a hot Hurricanes team. After all we’ve seen false flags in terms of breaking our spiral of doom before. Just two weeks ago we had a three-game winning streak that was promptly buried with four straight ugly losses. With five of the next seven and six of the next nine against division foes (and all of whom we’re fighting for playoff spots/seeding), this would be a good time to finally make a good streak stick for a change in 2018.