On season finale day, Devils’ division hunt reaches a climax

With the final regular season games to be played today (and a couple of makeup games tomorrow, but none with any bearing on the East playoffs), there’s little to play for on the one hand since we know all sixteen playoff teams, but also still much to be decided in terms of seeding and even a couple of division titles up for grabs. Namely, the Metro where the Canes refuse to put the division away while the Devils have done just enough to give themselves a chance to flip the script on this final day. Our game with the playoff-less Capitals in Washington and the Canes’ game down in Florida will determine not only the Metro division winner, but also who all the local teams play in the first round.

Islanders – will play at Boston with a Panthers win against the Hurricanes, otherwise they’ll play at Carolina.

Rangers – start the playoffs at New Jersey or Carolina, whoever doesn’t win the Metro

Devils – win the Metro and face the Panthers with any combination of results that at least ties them with Carolina points-wise since we own the tiebreaker. Essentially because we’re a point behind, we have to get more points than the Canes out of our game tonight to win the division and play Florida. Otherwise, we’ll play the Rangers.

It would be amusing if the Devils somehow won the division, after for months a Devils-Rangers first-round series looked pre-ordained. Although not as much so for the people who bought playoff strips and individual tickets to the first round hoping to flip the Ranger games at a profit, oh well. Seemingly for the last month the division has been kept at arm’s length, as every time all looks lost the Canes go on another losing streak, while just when it looks like we’re about to catch them we no-show in Winnipeg – or make the bizarre decision to play Mackenzie Blackwood in Boston instead of giving him the AHL Blue Jackets two nights earlier.

Not that our 2-1 loss against the record-setting Bruins was really on the goaltending, but it did make you wonder how much management actually cares about the division. Hopefully they don’t care more about selling tickets – i.e. playing the Rangers – than letting the players take their shot at having one more great accomplishment in the regular season. At least Tuesday’s Fan Appreciation Game proved to be a fitting celebration of a fantastic regular season, as the Devils not only knocked the Sabres out of the playoffs, but also clinched home-ice in the first round with a 6-2 win that was at times frenetic. Ultimately Vitek Vanecek making a lot of good saves early and some opportunistic finishing led to a relatively comfortable win in the end.

Although neither played a starring role in the competitive part of the game, the night was largely about the Hughes family before and after the game, both with Jack breaking the Devils’ record for points in a season with a fortuitous empty-net goal at 5-2 and with Luke making his NHL debut.

Jack’s response to how his parents would celebrate him breaking the Devils’ record and Luke’s debut was classic….’probably sitting on the couch watching Quinn (Vancouver’s All-Star defenseman)’. Hopefully there is a world where we get to see all three Hughes on the ice with the same team, most likely with team USA in a few years if Luke lives up to his own billing. For his part, he didn’t look out of place Tuesday though he probably played too conservatively to make real impact plays. I was hoping he’d get some power play time at least, but maybe next year. After saying Luke would play at least one of the final two games, coach Lindy Ruff left the door open for him to play again tonight after Tuesday’s game.

As far as Jack and the record…admittedly I was a little mixed on the thought of him breaking the record of my all-time favorite Devil. But once you’re in the building with the record tied, then you want to see history no matter what (though a moment of confession time, I thought Jack was actually one short of the record until I saw the montage celebrating him breaking it, and forgot he actually got an assist on Jesper Bratt’s goal in Boston). And for his part, Patty was his usual Patty self in his congratulations to Jack after the game.

Even if the Devils don’t win the division, all in all Tuesday was a nice capper on a record-breaking regular season all around. Team-wise the Devils’ 51st win also tied a franchise record, which they could actually break with a win in Washington tonight. Given that the Caps have been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since Martin Brodeur was finishing his Devils career (2013-14), the opportunity is certainly there to break the record and put more pressure on the Canes to get a win in Florida. For their part, at least the Panthers in theory have the motivation to win and avoid the mighty Bruins in round one. It’s always iffy whether players actually get motivated by seeding though, especially after a long surge just to make the playoffs.

Either way, at least by 10:30 tonight we’ll know the final chapter of this book and who we’ll start the playoffs with.

This entry was posted in Devils and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.