Where do you start with tonight? Might as well just start with the video of the day…a true Hollywood ending as the Hughes brothers combined for Luke’s first NHL goal, which just happened to give the Devils a 5-4 OT win over the Capitals. A game where the Devils were down 4-1 no less…but hey, what’s one more insane comeback in a season filled with them? In addition to being a career highlight for Luke Hughes (for the moment), the Devils’ win also gave them a franchise record with their 52nd W of the season, surpassing the 2000-01 Devils. All that team did was go to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the year after winning it.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) the game wound up meaning nothing in terms of the standings since Carolina took an early lead, then withstood a pair of Panther surges in the third period to hold onto a 6-4 win that finally gave them the Metro crown by a single point in the end. So, Armageddon here we come. But at least the Devils salvaged something intangible from a game where it seemed as if the organization was content to let the chips fall where they may.
I already went through being critical in my prior blog (and the comments section) of the Devils’ laissez-faire attitude toward the division, the latest evidence being running out Mackenzie Blackwood for the second time in three games tonight. Though it didn’t really hurt in Boston – despite a bad second goal allowed there – boy did it matter tonight, as Blackwood was quite simply putrid, giving up four goals on eleven shots and finally getting pulled for Akira Schmid when it seemed as if the division was safely out of reach with the Devils down 4-1 and Carolina leading 2-0 through the second period.
I know this organization believes in Blackwood’s ‘upside’ and is desperately still trying to make him a thing but you already had Schmid here because of Vitek Vanecek getting the night off – and quite frankly he’s earned the #2 job throughout the season by any metric except for contract status, you might as well have just started him if you were actually trying to win while rest players. While I never think players try to tank, I do think the organization’s bleh attitude toward the division chase contributed to a rough first half of tonight’s regular season finale.
Maybe putting Schmid in woke the Devils up, because they certainly upped their level after that. Of course, it also helps having an actual NHL goaltender who can make a save. I didn’t bother turning it on till the third period after I saw the lineup, which of course led to a predictable start of the game, but suddenly things got very interesting in Washington thanks to Miles Wood’s goal late in the second period and Erik Haula’s breakaway tally to start the third. Then things got really interesting in Florida as the Panthers scored two quick goals to tie the game in Sunrise. Could the improbable really happen?
Carolina put a quick end to our delusions of grandeur striking back twice and then putting in an empty-netter late in the third to seemingly put that game away, but the Devils to their credit forged on and Dougie Hamilton’s patented bomb from the point tied the game. Hamilton’s goal was the 22nd of the year for the Devils’ triggerman on D, adding to his all-time team record. With the game now headed for OT thanks to Schmid’s heroics and our offense coming to life, we had one final tease in Sunrise as the Panthers scored two goals with an empty net to pull back within one towards the end of regulation, but another empty-net goal from Carolina finally put that game, and the division to bed.
All that was left now for the Devils was to make the best of their final period of the season – and boy, did they do that with Hughes dynamics leading to a fitting end to what’s been a dream regular season. If Luke had a cautiously decent first game, he definitely opened eyes with his second game, playing 21:13 with an assist on Haula’s first goal of the game in the first period, which opened the scoring after Blackwood had already spotted the moribund Caps a 3-0 lead. Of course, his first NHL point was quickly eclipsed as a career highlight by his first NHL goal…with the primary assist coming from none other than Jack. Predictably, Luke is keeping his first goal puck all in the family:
Cynically, I think this was the perfect script for Tom Fitzgerald, team doesn’t win the division but goes out on their shield while resting players in the process and having their prized rookie turn star to boot…well almost perfect, if he is still part of the contingent who thinks Blackwood should be the Devils’ #2 going into the playoffs. Hopefully tonight finally ended that delusion but I won’t hold my breath. Now we just wait for the playoff schedule to drop to see when we’re playing.
One more thing I have to throw a wet blanket on because I’ve seen this comment all over the place about how the Devils’ 49-point turnaround from last year to this year is the biggest in NHL history, it’s just simply not factual. San Jose’s 58-point improvement from ’92-93 to ’93-94 is the biggest year-to-year turnaround. The fact those were 84-game seasons (which is why it isn’t listed in certain charts) doesn’t change that fact. Two more games is less than a nine-point difference. Obviously, our turnaround was impressive enough and one of the biggest in NHL history, but let’s not jump the shark on the hype machine here.
Of course, we’ll be doing plenty of shark jumping in the coming days with the hype that’ll ensue on Devils-Rangers plus the added local flavor of the Isles also being in our bracket, and a dangerous opponent for the Hurricanes. Maybe this will be an all Battle of the Hudson bracket in the end. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting in the next few days, and how much I’ll just let Derek take the lead on the nuts and bolts of this series – especially being that I’m going to at least a couple of these games. I’m sure I’ll probably give thoughts at some points in the series but not after every night.
I’ll almost certainly leave the full preview to him but my early tl;dr prediction is Devils in 7 and we’re both in curled balls by the end of the series. I wouldn’t term this prediction as cautious optimism as much as a belief in the Devils after everything they accomplished this season, coupled with a healthy respect (if not total fear) of who we’re playing. Yes, we won three of the four games and took seven points out of eight from the regular season games this year but every one of them were close, wild affairs. I see no reason to think a first-round series between two excellent teams wouldn’t be the same. And because I’m predicting a seven-game series – and probably am not in the minority there – I have to predict Devils in the end because the alternative would be just too icky to think about, from my pov anyway.
Here goes nothing!
Great job, Hasan noting that Sharks’ turnaround. It’s remarkable they ignore it. That team was pretty incredible. They had Larionov. And Irbe. Some guy named Ozolinsh.
I uh was more focused on the Devils game. And it didn’t disappoint. Congrats to Luke Hughes on an awesome first goal. He has great talent.
The series coming up is wowza. I have the Tums ready. Lol 😆
The graphic they showed on the team Twitter it notes ‘in an 82 game season’ in very small print on the top lol…the Tweets themselves parroting this stat don’t even have that disclaimer. And I didn’t realize the unintentional pun on jumping the shark there 😛
I even remembered those Shark teams with Kevin Constantine and following that ’93 playoff run a little, funny he did such a good job there and even a little bit with Pittsburgh but here he was just another guy who went through the Lou coach grinder pretty quickly.
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