Devils Plan to Spoil Penguins Party
When the New Jersey Devils hit the ice in Pittsburgh they will play a regular-season game having already been eliminated from playoff contention. In 1996 it took until the final day of the season for the Ottawa Senators to remove any chance of a Stanley Cup repeat in the swamp.
When was the last time the Devils played a regular season game with no chance of making the playoffs? 1989! All the way back to when the divisions were called Patrick, Smythe, Norris and Adams and we had the Campbell and Prince of Wales Conferences. But thanks to Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens the Devils are now playing the role of a spoiler.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-8) still have a chance to finish first in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. They sit just three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals with three games remaining for each team. However, they're only one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for fifth and they need every point they can get to secure home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite no post season aspirations for the Devils, they still have a lot to play for. New Jersey is 36-37-5 and have a realistic chance to finish above .500. You have to go back to the 1990-91 season to find the last time New Jersey finished with more losses than wins. The difference is that team still made the playoffs, losing to the Penguins 4-3 in the division semi-finals.
A strong finish would send the players into the off season on a high and could go a long way psychologically for a team dealing with failure for the first time in over a decade.
Tuesdays game marks the final meeting of the season between these Atlantic Division foes. Pittsburgh won the first two, New Jersey came back to take the next two, and the Penguins jumped ahead with a 1-0 shoot out win on March 25. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur played great and held each others respective teams at bay for 65 minutes. James Neal finally beat Brodeur in the shootout to win the game for the Penguins.
The Devils main objective should be to win the game in regulation because the Penguins are deadly in the shootout. Pittsburgh set an NHL record by winning four straight games in the shootout from March 21-27. They've won their last five shootouts overall. Neal has been red hot scoring on 3 of his last 4 shots.
Patrick Elias (3-2-5) and Ilya Kovalchuk (2-2-4) have been hot for New Jersey. Both are in the midst of three game point scoring streaks. Elias had a hat trick last Friday night against the Flyers. It was the 8th hat trick of his career. Zach Parise played his first game in nearly five months and besides a little rust he was one of the better Devil forwards in their embarrassing elimination loss to Montreal.
New Jersey is still without the services of defenseman Colin White and Anton Volchenkov. White has missed the last four games with what the team is calling a "lower body" injury. Volchenkov had missed 2 in a row before returning on Friday against the Flyers. He re-aggravated his "lower body" injury in that same game and had to leave. He did not play the following night against the Canadiens.
Pittsburgh forwards Arron Asham (lower body) and Eric Tangradi (concussion) practiced Monday with the team but are still questionable. Forwards Nick Johnson (upper body) and Sidney Crosby (concussion) are still out.
Steve's Spin: It's important for the Devils to bounce back from an ugly loss at home to the Canadiens. The Penguins are playing with a purpose, New Jersey should too.
One last note, Martin Brodeur has never had a losing season in his career. With 4 games left the 38 year old net minder has a record of 22-25-9.
Just something to think about.