I'm an optimist. I've liked this team all year (in theory), even though it has taken years off my life (really, the bitter cold plus this year's Devils has been a maddening combo).
I'm frustrated like many of you; but I felt this team would gel at some point. It's taken a while, but I believe now is the time. I correctly predicted the Devils would beat the Jackets and Islanders after the break and also predicted they were going to defeat St. Louis at home back in January and then Washington. Those weren't really bold predictions I think at the time, but I've decided to up the ante and at least get excited about this squad.
1) at Detroit - This game I think the Devils win because Detroit will be physically and emotionally drained from the night before celebrating Lidstrom's retirement and playing against an old rival, Colorado. Also keeping in mind, Detroit is bad at home, only .500. The Devils are rested; like the favorable scheduling when we beat St. Louis at home, I think New Jersey wins this game.
2) vs. Carolina - I think we win here because Carolina has been in a tailspin, even though they just eked a W in San Jose. They have the Rangers at home the night before. We now have a guy who has been a Devil killer on our team facing his old team. I don't think Ruutu scores, but he'll get an assist and Henrique nets two. This game puts the nail in Carolina's coffin.
3) at Philadelphia - After the Flyers dismantled the Caps this is a hard prediction. Philly is playing well, only losing to SJ post-break. However, the Devils play well historically in Philadelphia. Both teams are well rested and for the Flyers this is their only game before a three-day layoff. If we lose this game, I think the Devils know the chance to catch the Flyers is gone. We win, in surprising fashion.
4) at Florida - Weak Florida team, even with Luongo in goal. Cory starts, finally beats his old teammate.
5) at Tampa Bay - This is a team, even with Stamkos back and with Callahan, is on its way down. They just lost their #3 seed last night, and even though they have games in hand, this team overperformed all year. Stamkos will add firepower, but l don't think he is his old self and won't mesh with Callahan like St. Louis, at least not this quickly. Strange things are afoot in Tampa Bay and the Devils have handled this team well this year.
A more realistic assessment would be 4-0-1, during this time, but I've put it in writing. There it is. We're in a playoff spot by the time we get ready for a difficult homestand.