Devils BeDevil Bruins; Send Lemaire Out A Winner
The New Jersey Devils (38-39-5) gave Coach Jacques Lemaire the perfect going away present on Sunday with an exciting 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins (46-25-1) before at Prudential Center. Immediately following the game, the man that brought New Jersey back to respectability made the announcement I don't think any of the Devils faithful wanted to hear, when he confirmed that he would not return to lead the team next year.
“It demands a lot. I want to enjoy life. I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year (about retiring), “Lemaire explained, “I’m happy I took the job the rest of the season. I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me.” Lemaire went on to add, "The only regrets I have is not making the playoffs.”
Although Lemaire stepped down from behind the bench he will remain with the organization as a special assignment coach. General Manager Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire In late December to help salvage what was left of the season. The Devils were dead last in the Eastern Conference (9-22-2) under coach John MacLean who had just been fired. After a slow start, winning just one of the first eight games in his return, Lemaire got the Devils back "in shape," and playing good positional hockey. The Devils finished 29-17-3 with Lemaire at the helm and at one point New Jersey was within striking distance of a playoff spot. In the end the Devils fell short and missed the post season for the first time since 1996.
Having Lemaire even for half a season was a blessing for the organization. The Devils have a plethora of young talent and many of the youngsters made huge strides under the Hall of Famer's tutelage and should has a positive effect of the future of the team. Fans caught a glimpse of that young talent in Sundays victory over playoff bound Boston. Second-year forward Vladimir Zharkov and rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom, who was called up earlier in the day each scored third period goals to send the sell-out crowd of 17,625 home happy.
Zharkov's second goal of the season broke the 1-1 tie. After accepting and outlet pass from Ansi Salmela, Zharkov fired a wrist shot over Boston goalie Tuuku Rask's glove and into the net. Urbom, extended the lead to 3-1 later in the third when he beat Rask on a wrap-around. It was the big defensemans 1st NHL goal in just his eighth game of the season. The Bruins scored a meaningless goal with 3.1 to pull to with one when Chris Kelly deflected home Dennis Seidenberg's shot from 15 feet away. It was too little too late and the Devil won 3-2 and head into the off season feeling good about themselves.
Rask, filling in for Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas, made 29 saves. Devils goalie Johan Hedberg made 24 stops to pick up his 15th victory of the year.It's just the second time in Hedberg's career that he reached 15 wins. "Moose" along with Lemaire played a vital role in the second half resurgence of the Devils. In fact, many fans I talk to still believe that if Lemaire had split more time between Hedberg and Martin Brodeur, New Jersey might be preparing for a first round playoff series next week.
Now that the 2010-11 season has come to an abrupt end Lamoriello has to get to work preparing for next season. The Devils GM said he wasn't surprised that Lemaire didn't retrun but did reiterate that if the re-retiring coach wanted to returned he would definitely be welcomed back.
“It’s completely understandable,” Lamoriello said. “It was something I asked him to do at a certain time and he obliged. But it was not surprising (he decided to retire again) because his first decision (to retire) was not made hastily. He put a lot of thought into it.”
Now the Devils are back to square one. Let's just hope square one doesn't include another lame duck coach because this time there won't be another coach like Lemaire to bail Lou out.
Steve's Spin: While Lamoriello doesn't appear to be in any hurry to find a replacement for Lemaire, I think it important that he doesn't just remain "status quo." Earlier on Sunday both the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers let go of their respective coaches and may behoove Lou to act fast. Last summer it seemed as though John Maclean was a last resort. Lou can't make that same mistake again. He's definitely going to have his hands full with the Zach Parise contract situation and it may help speed of the negotiations if there is a proven coach already in place.
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