The afternoon brings a close to the 2008-09 regular season for the New Jersey Devils. While the ending wasn't necessarily smooth, it definitely was a fantastic season overall. Zach Parise broke out in a massive way to the top of the goalscoring chart for guys not named Alexander Ovechkin. Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner had great seasons. The defense was solid enough for the netminders. And the Devils didn't just endure the loss of Martin Brodeur due to injury - but they rose above to rise to the top of the standings. Of course, when Brodeur came back it was business as usual as he went on to win his 552nd career game - a NHL record. Such was the basis for the awards I handed out. The Devils broke a franchise record in wins in their last game, they won their eighth Atlantic Division title, and today's game could help determine who they face in the third round.
Pretty successful, no? By the way, please give me your thoughts on who you would like the Devils see play in the first round. Good comments will definitely be quoted later in a playoff preview to be written later.
That said, the Devils take on Carolina. The Hurricanes are the hottest team in the league. They won 9 straight games before the Buffalo Sabres proverbially dumped their books all over the place on Thursday. Their winning streak may be over, but the Canes can still sweep the Devils. That's right, the Devils have yet to be the well-balanced buzzsaw that is Carolina all season. Ironically enough, if the Devils do beat them, then they may get to enjoy playing Carolina in the first round. If I recall correctly, the Devils have only beaten them in one playoff series all-time. Oh...boy.
Anyway, the Devils have already revealed part of what their line up will look like. According to Gulitti, Martin Brodeur will start, Patrik Elias will definitely play, and Niclas Havelid is "good to go." I assume that if Havelid is "good to go," Andy Greene will sit and the "good to go" Havelid will return with Bryce Salvador; meaning Mike Mottau will reunite with Colin White. Interestingly enough, Sutter also said Pierre-Luc Latourneau-Leblond will also play. He wasn't a waste, but with less than 5 mintues of ice tme, he wasn't all that useful either. But Sutter liked what he saw; meaning Mike Rupp and Bobby Holik may be watching this game from afar.
As far as the Canes go, regardless if they give Cam Ward his 29th consecutive start, they will be difficult opponents for the same reason they won the last three games. Carolina will not relent in the game, they will collapse nearly on cue when the puck goes into their zone, and they will seek every opportunity to make the Devils pay - be it a power play or a short rebound. Especially Eric Staal, who managed to reach the 40 goal plateau for the second time in his young career (and did so in the dying seconds of that 5-1 loss to Buffalo).
|2008 - Eric Staal||81||40||35||75||15||50||14||1||8||0||368||10.9|
The importance of playing hard all 60 minutes is a cliche, but that doesn't mean it won't apply this afternoon. For more information about the Canes, check out the always-insightful Canes Country on game day for what's shaking with them.
Despite what the result may be, I'm happy and thankful for what the Devils have done this season. That said, I still want New Jersey to head into the first round with their heads held up. A decisive win over a team that has been their "bogey" all season (and seemingly in past seasons) would do exactly that.