For the Devils, phase one of their six-game potential nightmare swing was an unqualified success sweeping Nashville and Vegas in a flurry of goals, with new starting goaltender Keith Kinkaid continuing his astonishing run of success. However, there’s still a long way to go in the next four days with the three California stops looming, all against teams who are also fighting for their playoff bubble lives. I hadn’t originally planned on being home to watch today’s odd 4 PM start time but an annoying cold is pretty much keeping me indoors for the weekend so I’ll likely be tuned into that game, assuming I don’t nap then or some other big news doesn’t happen to take my attention away like the latest political dumpster fire last night or the football Jets’ big trade this morning.’
With twelve games left and everyone around the Devils playing, today’s another giant day in the playoff chase. Thanks to the Flyers’ recent slump it’s now a four teams for three spots gauntlet:
- Metro (3): Flyers 81 points, 11 GR
- Wild Card: Blue Jackets 81 points, 11 GR
- Wild Card: Devils 80 points, 12 GR
- Outside looking in: Panthers 77 points, 14 GR
Florida’s two games in hand remaining and recent white-hot stretch still loom large but so does their upcoming gauntlet of eight games in thirteen days in eight different cities (seven on the road) after what’s likely to be another home layup against the Oilers today. If any team is hotter than the Panthers, it’s the Blue Jackets who’ve won six in a row themselves and have a home game today against a struggling but pesky Senators team who did more than play out the string finally tripping up the Panthers on Tuesday. Columbus also goes on the road for five out of seven games after today. Lately the only good news from the OOT scoreboard has come from Philly who after finishing February 10-0-1 in an eleven game stretch have fallen to earth with a thud in March (1-6-1) putting them back on the bubble, and they have a tough back-to-back this weekend in Carolina and home against the Caps tomorrow before a five games out of seven stretch on the road.
Of course the OOT results will only serve to mark our demise if the Devils don’t keep up their resurgence on the first two games of this life-and-death trip. Playing against teams like Vegas and Nashville who have pretty much locked up everything but seeding in March is one thing, but playing against teams also needing wins just to make the playoffs as badly as you do is another story. New Jersey starts the California portion of this trip in LA, against a Kings team they smoked 5-1 at the Rock earlier this season, ending an eight-game winning streak for LA in the process. I wouldn’t neccesarily say this is a must win but it’s a pretty vital two points to get before playing a back-to-back in Anaheim tomorrow night against a healthier team than the one we beat at the Rock in December, and then going to San Jose on Tuesday, a team we’ve rarely had success against in recent years. Although October was a long time ago they smoked us pretty good in NJ when we were still playing consistently well.
You would like to be going into these games with a reasonably healthy lineup but that seems like a fantasy for the Devils these days with Marcus Johansson still out but starting to skate again at least after his second long-term concussion of the year, Pavel Zacha still missing with an upper-body injury of his own and even new acquisition Patrick Maroon who’s provided a spark being a game-time decision due to an undisclosed ailment. In goal it’s obvious both guys will split these next two games (and the back-to-back next weekend) but after coach John Hynes started Keith Kinkaid in the first two games of the trip it’s also obvious that the net is Kinkaid’s to lose at this point. Call it hot goalie syndrome or whatever, but the Devils tacitly have acknowledged that with the playoffs on the line the best guy’s gonna play whether it’s up front, on D or in net and there’s no mistaking the fact that – shockingly – right now Keith’s the best guy in net.
Perhaps having a rare three-day break in between the Nashville and Vegas stops was enough to jump-start a struggling offense who hit the jackpot with eight (!) goals against one of the best teams in the NHL on Wednesday. Despite a 4-0 start to the game I was nervous when the Devils gave up two late second-period goals that it was going to be an unneccesarily hairy finish which had the potential to derail our playoff run. Maybe a bit overdramatic, but after seeing a bunch of two-goal leads evaporate like it was nothing already this season I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to bed after the second period when I saw the score the next morning. Seeing it was 8-3 I did a double-take. Literally the last thing I was expecting was the Devils to score four straight goals and have a rare laugher in the end. With another two days off before this afternoon’s game in LA, rest and getting enough practice time shouldn’t be an issue right now.
It’s almost easy to forget today’s St. Patrick’s Day, especially considering I went to the parade last Saturday in Morristown. However there’ve been some good St. Patty’s Day memories for the Devils in the past, specifically in 2009 with Martin Brodeur setting the all-time wins record and Patrik Elias the all-time Devil points record in the same exciting 3-2 win over the Blackhawks. Whereas once we had Patty with the hat, now we have Kinkaid with…whatever this outfit is
Whatever’s workin’ for ya buddy, just keep stopping those pucks the way you have in the last month and hopefully the offense didn’t completely use up its weekly quota of goals in Vegas. I’m not in the mood for much in the way of analysis or discussing individual players at this point…just get the two points.