My last blog was basically an overview of the decade itself and all the main events on and off the ice by year. This time I’ll expand the Devils retrospective by looking more closely at the top ten games and naming my all-decade team. First, the top ten games in chronological order:
2/5/10 – Devils 4, Leafs 3 – An otherwise unremarkable February game against the Leafs at the Rock had a remarkable finish in the first game for Ilya Kovalchuk after the blockbuster trade bringing him to Newark. Trailing 3-1 with 3:04 left in the third period, the Devils rallied to tie on goals by the immortal Dean McAmmond, then Travis Zajac on a PP with Kovalchuk getting a secondary assist for his first point in the white and red. Jay Pandolfo scoring the winner with nineteen seconds left in regulation was pure hilarity on the one hand, and on the other gave us some (false) hope that it was the start of something special with Kovalchuk, even as he played a secondary role in this wild finish.
3/12/11 – Devils 3, Islanders 2 (OT) – Hockey wasn’t much fun for most of 2010 after Kovy’s debut, as the 2009-10 season crashed and burned – while the 2010-11 season started in historically bad fashion before Jacques Lemaire came out of retirement and helped make hockey fun again – inspiring the team to a marvelous second half. Our wild run back to relevance crested with this pre-St. Patty’s day game against the Islanders at the Rock in early March, with Anssi Salmela scoring an OT winner and inspiring this hilarious reaction from former player and current color guy Ken Daneyko.
4/26/12 – Devils 3, Panthers 2 (2OT) – Back in the playoffs after a brief absence in 2011, the Devils made the most of their return trip to playoff hockey, but it wasn’t easy as a back-and-forth series came down to Game 7 where the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead, then the Panthers tied it at 2 in the third. After one heart-stopping OT went by without the winner, rookie Adam Henrique struck less than four minutes into the second OT for his first big postseason moment, finally getting the Devils over the first-round hump they hadn’t cleared since 2007.
5/25/12 Devils 3, Rangers 2 (OT) – After the dramatic series win over the Panthers, the Devils crushed one of their biggest rivals in five games (the Flyers), and were on the verge of knocking an even bigger rival out for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Certainly it wouldn’t be easy against the Rangers, and just like Game 7 in Florida, another early 2-0 lead evaporated as the teams battled into OT. Fortunately this one didn’t last as long with Henrique again doing the honors after just 63 seconds, sending the Devils to the Finals and giving the Rock its best moment since opening in 2007.
1/11/14 – Devils 2, Panthers 1 (OT) – More of a personal favorite than anything else even though the team was still in a playoff hunt for most of the year, this game stands out for two reasons. One, the hilarious sight of NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal dropping the ceremonial first puck in an Alexei Ponikarovsky jersey he allegedly had to borrow because it was the only one that’d fit him. Two being the dramatic nature of the ending itself, with the teams looking like they were headed to a shootout before one last faceoff with under four seconds remaining…but Travis Zajac won the draw, then Jaromir Jagr dished the puck to Marek Zidlicky, who had enough time to beat Tim Thomas right before the buzzer – and sent both the home crowd and Thomas into differing states of emotional overload.
4/13/14 – Devils 3, Bruins 2 – With the team starting to get older and further away from the glory days, the next couple of these are going to be melancholy starting with Martin Brodeur’s final game as a Devil. Forgettable meaningless game or not, there was only one satisfactory ending allowed. Fittingly the GOAT went out with a win at the Rock to the approval of the cheering home fans though.
4/9/16 – Devils 5, Leafs 1 – Even with my sadness over seeing my favorite player (Patrik Elias) and an all-time team team icon likely to retire, he couldn’t have gone out any better, giving fans a reminder of what they were about to miss with a three-point night including a dramatic final minute goal that brought the house down.
10/7/17 – Devils 4, Avalanche 1 – Although we were two years into the new regime by now, this was arguably the moment where Devil fans had hope again for the present and the future, with young additions contributing all over the lineup against a solid Colorado team. Although it was #1 overall Nico Hischier who was the headliner coming in – and he played well in his NHL debut – it was the undercard additions of Will Butcher (three assists) and Jesper Bratt (goal and an assist) who each grabbed a starring role on the day, and this win propelled the Devils to a 9-2 start to the season.
4/5/18 – Devils 2, Leafs 1 – After a hot start and inspiring close to the 2017-18 season for the Devils, they stood one win away from clinching a playoff spot in the regular season home finale and penultimate game against the Leafs. It wouldn’t be easy as the Devils fell behind 1-0 but second-period goals from Pavel Zacha and deadline acquisition Pat Maroon, along with solid goaltending from stretch-run savior Keith Kinkaid proved just enough to win the day, and give the home fans a deserved moment of celebration after five dark years on and off-ice.
4/16/18 – Devils 5, Lightning 2 – Despite falling behind 2-0 in their first-round series with the top seeded Lightning, that couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of a sellout crowd witnessing the Devils’ first home playoff game since Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. This proved to be yet another curtain call for Hart winner-to be Taylor Hall. Hall’s three-point night helped the Devils and their fans have one more night of celebration in the 2018 season, after they dramatically came from behind twice to take the lead late in the third (with Hall’s assist to Stefan Noesen providing the eventual winner), then pulled away with two empty-net goals.
Actually ranking the games themselves would be obviously different, with the Henrique goal against the Rangers #1 by a country mile. I’d likely put Henrique’s ‘other’ OT goal and the Devils returning to the playoffs in 2018 as #2 and #3. Everything else, who cares? It’s a matter of personal preference for the most part. Honestly it wasn’t all that hard to come up with a list of ten though, which probably says something about how few actual highlights there’ve been in this decade.
For my Devils all-decade team:
My reasoning on Hall is simple, there’s only one Hart trophy winner in team history and Hall gets the nod mostly on that, along with the team’s 2018 playoff run. Plus where else was I going to go? As far as the ’10’s go, Parise was a one-hit wonder too since he missed most of 2010-11 and left after that, and his 2012 wasn’t anywhere near Hall’s 2018. Kovalchuk played RW for most of his tenure here, but I passed him over for Palmieri partly out of spite plus out of longevity. Let’s face it, for all the good Kovalchuk did in the latter half of 2010-11 and 2011-12, that was pretty much it for him in terms of career highlights here, while Palmieri’s had four going on five solid seasons now as a RW and has been a franchise bright spot in the dark ages. Elias at center is almost a technicality but he did play center long enough for me to qualify him and I’ll give him the distinction of being one of the few back-to-back all-decade Devils. As much as I like Zajac and respect the longevity angle, I just can’t put him as a top-line center of the decade. Henrique wasn’t consistent enough outside of his two big moments for me to stomach putting him there, although like Palmieri he was a bright spot as the dark ages hit, on and off the ice and deserves honorable mention.
Defense and goaltending, it wasn’t exactly the glory days – there isn’t really a lot to pick from anymore. Greene is an obvious pick given he played for the entire decade and has been a first-pairing D for most of it – including all the playoff runs – serving with distinction despite trying circumstances. Zidlicky’s always been a personal favorite and his acquisition was key for the 2012 Spring of fun, plus he had a few more soild years after that. And let’s face it who else was I going to pick…Salvador? Fayne? Tallinder? Severson? Yikes. I really had to grit my teeth picking Schneider in goal – especially given Marty’s spring of 2012 but facts are facts, Cory had the better decade (last couple of years aside), he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time during his peak. Not to mention his acquisition at the draft in Newark was one of the most memorable moments of the decade in itself. And let’s face it, even Marty doesn’t have longevity enough to merit being on the all-decade team three straight times.
Coach has to be DeBoer with combined longevity and results. It basically has to be by default since we’ve really only had two coaches after 2011, unless you give it to Jacques based on one meaningless but fun second half. That’s all from me, hope these last couple of blogs were as fun for you to read as for me to do. I’ll probably be back after the New Year although most of the action is going to be off the ice at this point in terms of trades and what happens with the coach.