After last night's shootout loss to the Blackhawks, I noted that I couldn't ever remember seeing a game where no penalties were called. Turns out that it was the first time in Devils history they'd ever played a game where the penalty sheet was blank and the first such game in the NHL since March 28, 2001 (more than nine years ago!) in a Boston road victory at Toronto. And that game was sixty minutes, not sixty-five to boot. Of course the refs were heading that way not calling a single penalty in the first forty-seven minutes of our game Tuesday night.
Anyway also one minor editor's correction from last night, tonight's game against Carolina is actually only the third straight time we've had to play them the night after a game - and only two of those prior games in the back-to-back were in New Jersey but the other was in Chicago which is just as bad anyway, going from Chicago to Carolina the night after. Of course in none of our home games against them the last two years did Carolina have a game the night before. Figures our only road win against them in that time came during the playoffs, where playing back-to-back in different cities usually isn't on the program.
Although I certainly don't expect a win tonight given the travel and devastating nature of last night's game (where even Doc Emrick noted how this seems to happen a lot to the Devils in the last minute of games), if the Devils ever could beat the Canes in regulation that would all but eliminate them from the playoffs, in fact Boston getting a point in Toronto combined with a Devils regulation win would send the Canes home for the season once and for all. At least that would be a nice way to gain some momentum back for a stretch run that includes Ilya Kovalchuk's homecoming on Tuesday and a game in Florida Thursday before the back-to-back home games against the Islanders and Sabres the final weekend of the season.
As far as tonight's lineup, Martin Brodeur is expected to play in goal all the way through, maybe Yann Danis will get one of the last two games depending on our position but right now these games are too important to mess around with. Granted I'm as big as anyone on resting Brodeur as much as possible and don't feel the division in itself is important but there's another complication to factor in - Ottawa's closed to within four points of us for home-ice in the first round. While the difference between say, third and fourth is pretty negligible the difference between second and fifth could be playoff-changing. You're talking about what could potentially be two home series against what likely would be none.
In spite of this team's recent hiccups at home, things have been far worse on the road and for the most part this crowd is still behind the team, especially in terms of attendance given there've been seven sellouts in the last ten games at the Rock with two more possible to end the season. You wouldn't know it based on reading message boards or my own blogs lately but there are still a lot of believers out there waiting to find something to cheer, or at least people who don't take crushing losses as hard as some of us. And it is time for the Devils to give the crowd something to cheer in the new building, our home-ice advantage I think would be pronounced the deeper in the playoffs we get.
It would be nice to test that theory this April and May.