The New Jersey Devils are the only local team with a reasonable chance of making the playoffs this season–the Rangers waved the white flag before the trade deadline last month, and the Islanders have just played themselves out of contention in the last few weeks. Although the Devils currently sit in the second wild card spot in the East, a post-season appearance for the team is far from certain. But New Jersey is doing their part—defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning last night by the score of 2-1. The game itself looked sloppy on both teams’ part, with passes misfiring and very little flow, but the lack of flow meant that the Lightning (who currently have the most goals scored this season) could not put their game together. This was no accident, as it was New Jersey’s strategy to play a defensive game against them. It was the second night of a very difficult back-to-back for the Devils, but the team came out with a lot of energy and determination, and played what essentially was a perfect game against the number one team in the league. It may not have looked like a brilliant game to watch for the sellout Prudential Center crowd, but the Devils got the two points and came away with all four points during the back-to-back.
They needed the points too, as the Florida Panthers, immediately behind the Devils and with two games in hand, are knocking on the door. Here is the Devils’ current situation. New Jersey is in the second (and last) wild card spot. With seven games left in the season, the only team that could possibly stand in its way for a post-season berth is Florida. The only other team that could mathematically make it would be the Carolina Hurricanes who, with nine points less than New Jersey would have to pull off a miracle win streak combined with the Devils falling off a cliff. It is highly unlikely, but if the Canes win their game against Ottawa tomorrow night (to make it three wins in a row), it will make their game in New Jersey against the Devils on Tuesday night extremely interesting.
It is Florida that is the main challenger, though. The Panthers have come on strong lately and have played two fewer games than New Jersey. This morning’s standings have Florida three points behind the Devils, with nine games to play. With the Canes, Pittsburgh, the Islanders, Montreal, the Rangers, Toronto, and the Caps left to play (including five games at home), the Devils have a favorable schedule compared to Florida. The Panthers play the Islanders, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston (3 times), Carolina, Nashville, and Buffalo (only four of which are at home). This is to the Devils’ advantage, as although New Jersey has a pretty even record both home and away, the same cannot be said for the Panthers (who are 23-11-3 at home, and a less than .500, 15-17-4 away).
In the end though, as Devils’ Head Coach John Hynes said last night, “[w]e have to take care of our own business, I think … we have to focus on ourselves, our game… when you do that, your mindset is correct … you do not worry about things you can’t control.”
It should be an interesting next two weeks in New Jersey.