Quoting former Indianapolis head coach Jim Mora, "Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game." That's where we're at right now.
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - NBC SN, TSN2; Radio - 970 AM WNYM
The Ticket Link from TiqIQ: Amazingly, getting a Devils ticket these days has been a little tricky despite the team's lack of results. Go figure. Anyway, should you want to go tonight, then you may want to go the secondary market. Fortunately, TiqIQ can help you out there: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Buffalo needing a win. They got a lot of shots, pinned back the Sabres to enough times to a degree that the fans jeered their own team when they got a clearance, and pushed the tempo. Alas, two errors yielded Buffalo goals: one giveaway by Andy Greene that became the secondary assist to a goal by Patrick Kaleta; and a collection of smaller errors that ended with Steve Ott open in the slot for a score. The Devils would answer both goals with a power play goal (!) by Steve Sullivan and a shorthanded goal (!) created by Dainius Zubrus (!) and finished by Mark Fayne (!!) in the high slot. Alas, the Devils couldn't solve Ryan Miller a third time and as with the previous two games against Buffalo, a shootout was necessary. The Devils didn't score, Nathan Gerbe did, and so the Devils only got one point. My recap wasn't on-time but my full thoughts were added after the game.
The Last Bruins Game: On Monday night, the Bruins hosted the Carolina Hurricanes, another team in the middle of desperate times with respect to the playoffs. The Canes started Justin Peters for this one. It turned out to get ugly when Rich Peverley scored early in the game and Brad Marchand scored about four minutes later. It was two goals on four shots and Dan Ellis came in relief. He didn't fare so well in a game that ended 42-36 in shots in favor of Carolina. Marchand earned his brace later in the first period to send the Canes back to their locker rooms reeling. It just got worse and worse in the second period when Andrew Ference made it 4-0 early on and Jordan Caron tallied his first of the second just past the halfway mark of the game. Would the Canes get on the board? Yes. In the third period, the Canes got a quick double right after the ten-minute mark from Patrick Dwyer and Drayson Bowman. Would there be a comeback? Absolutely not and Nathan Horton ensured it with a score just before three minutes left to play. Boston dropped an even strength TD on Carolina to win 6-2 to have the Tuukka Rask-assisted (seriously, 40 saves) good times keep on rolling. Sarah Connors has a recap of the game over at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
The Last Devils-Bruins Game: Let's go back in time to the far, far, away land of last Thursday. The Devils visited the Bruins for the second time this season and New Jersey went right at Boston after a tentative start by both sides. The Devils did what they could - but couldn't beat Tuukka Rask. Early in the second period, the Bruins got a big bounce their way when Marchand missed Jaromir Jagr's stick with a pass. Instead, the puck caromed off Jagr's skate to surprise Martin Brodeur and everyone else. The Devils responded with more pressure and shots from all over, both inside and out. Dainius Zubrus hit a cross-bar, David Clarkson hit a post, and Rask stopped everything else. The Devils continued to push, push, and push some more as they pinned back most Bruins save for the David Krejci line in terms of possession. But despite out-playing and out-possessing one of the best teams in the league on their home ice, they could not beat Rask. The Devils lost 1-0 - by a skate. I just threw up my hands in my recap.
The Goal: Score some. They need it badly.
OK. That's a bit obvious. Let me pick something a little deeper: play cautious. Please do not expect a repeat of what happened last Thursday. The Devils played one of their best games of the entire season and really made the Bruins look like cubs. Zdeno Chara was forced to play more in his own end than not. Only one of their forward lines consistently got forward more than they went backward. They proved that Jaromir Jagr was brought in for offense and not defense. The fourth line acted more like turnstiles than spark-lighters. Martin Brodeur played great, the defense didn't make many howling errors, and the forwards actually got a significant percentage of their 40 shots on net in between the dots and in the slot. Rask and the goal frame ensured there would be none - that's the only thing the Devils didn't do.
This Boston team is way too good to let that happen again. They're one of the few teams better than New Jersey in possession, they got talent up and down their forward lines, they have had a very good shot differential in 5-on-5 play and they take a lot of them, their PK remains excellent, and Chara will be tons better tonight. If the Devils try to swarm it up too often and try to win as many battles as they did in Boston or in Buffalo from Sunday, then they may end up with a rude awakening. Slowing down the game may help them find the holes to carry pucks in and try to get away from Boston's strength.
Anyway: I'm not going to subject you all to a long description on how the Bruins have been this season. The Devils did just play them and not much has changed since the last Devils-Bruins preview. Patrice Bergeron remains out. This team is still among the strongest in the league. However, the B's haven't exactly been perfect in recent games even thought they only lost once (1-2 to their hated rivals). With the exception of said loss, the Bruins have won three of their last four despite giving up over 40 shots in those games. Granted, the Bruins did out-shoot Ottawa 50-47 and weren't shabby against Carolina at 36-42 with a huge lead. Still, it suggests that the defensive effort hasn't exactly been good. In that sense, it may not be so unreasonable that the Devils may actually get a lot of pucks on net. Maybe not 40 shots and two posts like the last game, but a considerable amount.
But the big SA counts in recent games hasn't been as big of a problem as it would suggest be because of the goaltenders. Rask has given up exactly three goals in his three starts. Even if Rask and his 93.3% even strength save percentage this season sits since the Bruins do play on Thursday night, Boston's backup has been very good this season. Anton Khudobin has given up only two goals out of 47 shots in his most recent start and the one before that was a shutout as well. So far this season, he's got an even strength save percentage of 92.2% and a stupefying 95.8% save percentage on the PK. Therefore, don't get too excited if Rask doesn't start because Khudobin has been just as capable of withstanding a lot of rubber and coming out victorious.
There was one notable change within the Boston lineup in their big win against Carolina. Based on Fluto Shinzawa's report before the Canes game at Boston.com, you'll see an unfamiliar name on their second line. Gregory Campbell - yes, fourth line regular Campbell - centered Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr. Tyler Seguin was moved to right wing to play with Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly (he's back, so make it two changes) and the fourth line was a combination of Shawn Thornton, Rich Peverley, and Jordan Caron. Given that the Bruins scored five out of six goals away from the frighteningly-strong line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic, I doubt Claude Julien makes any further changes unless it's necessary. Re-organizing his forwards in this way does address some of the issues from the last Bruins-Devils game. The Devils creamed Campbell, Paille, and Thornton last Thursday. Now they're all separated with the former two playing with superior forwards. That's one less match-up for Peter DeBoer and the Devils to exploit. On paper at least.
As for the Devils, well, practice got a big boost as Ilya Kovalchuk skated for the first time with the team. Per this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, the team certainly enjoyed it. He's definitely not coming back tonight. In this post by Gulitti about Tuesday's practice, Kovalchuk didn't even take any hits with his shoulder or try a slap shot. He'll be back soon but not tonight. There were some other changes in practice.
At the end of this post-practice post at Fire & Ice, Gulitti noted that Jacob Josefson, Tom Kostopoulos, Peter Harrold, and Krystofer Barch got some post-practice work and that's usually a sign that they're not playing. Additionally, Martin Brodeur will start. That's fine; Moose more than proved that he's not the guy anyway. I liked what Josefson did in Buffalo and I think Kostopoulos is an OK fourth liner. That said, Alexei Ponikarovsky and his larger frame would hold up better against Boston, especially along the boards, so I can understand his inclusion. Matt D`Agostini, well, he'll get another chance to show what he can do. DeBoer also stated that while Bryce Salvador didn't practice he will play, so it's up in the air as to which defenseman sits for him. My guess is Henrik Tallinder if only because I don't see the sense in benching Fayne after he's added his name to the Short List of Devils Scorers in the Last Two Weeks. Larsson wasn't very good among the six against Buffalo; but given that DeBoer saw it fit to play him over 20 minutes, I doubt he turns around and gives him zero right away. I do think DeBoer will use the forward lines from practice to at least start the game, so let's hope Travis Zajac has a far better night in between Steve Sullivan and Patrik Elias.
With respect to the Devils in general, since their luck is so rotten, the offense needs to at least improve what they can control: shot location. That means they need to get more shots in the slot and between the dots, I would bring up the actual act of shooting but given that a second is an eternity in hockey, I understand that the opportunity to really pin-point a shot is rare. Besides, these are professional NHL players. They've played a lot of hockey at all levels to know what they got to do when they have the puck in the middle of the ice. (This is an assumption but I'm going with it.) The skaters have to improve in that regard, even though they did a good job of it in the last game against Boston and against Buffalo. I'll agree that throwing up long shots through traffic isn't getting the job done. So the team has to find the seams to get to the more dangerous shooting locations. Once they get there, they just have to do what they must. And hope Rask/Khudobin doesn't play out of their minds like they have been all season.
One final point: this is apparently a Wednesday Night Rivalry game so it's on NBC SN and has annoying 7:30 PM start time instead of the usual 7 PM. I know the Devils really, really, really want a win and I really, really, really want a win. But a rivalry? No, Mr. Snider, this is not a rivalry in the same way Philly-Boston is not a rivalry.
That's my take on tonight's game. Now I want to know yours. Will the Devils actually score a bunch of goals tonight? Can the Devils limit the Bruins again? Will we see a result or another nail in the coffin for the Devils' playoff hopes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts, hopes, and complaints in the comments. Thank you for reading.