Before tonight's game against the Thrashers, most of the talk was about Ilya Kovalchuk's return to Atlanta after the trade that brought him to New Jersey two months ago. While Kovalchuk may have provided sizzle since donning Devils red and white, it was ol' reliable Martin Brodeur who grabbed the spotlight during and after a 3-0 victory that saw the legendary netminder get his six hundredth career win, 110th career shutout (and second straight).
True, Brodeur only had to make nineteen saves in this game but in the first few minutes of the game (all I've seen since I was out at a movie after) he was on point once again as the Devils struggled early. Judging by the shot totals and the score though, I can safely assume this was the Devils' second straight team effort and they look to be finding their stride just in the nick of time before the playoffs.
I did see the highlights of the goals though, Dean McAmmond's seventh of the year 15:28 into the first was a nice give-and-go play with him and Danius Zubrus, with Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond getting another surprise assist as well. Zach Parise scored his 37th goal 51 seconds into the 2nd period from his office just outside of the goalcrease, with Paul Martin and Bryce Salvador getting the assists. After just ten seconds of the third period, Travis Zajac put the game away with his 24th goal on a nice wristshot after assists from Zubrus and Martin Skoula.
Some nights, even a three-goal lead didn't feel safe with this team over the last few months but tonight the Devils clamped down and snuffed the final life from the Thrashers' playoff lives, allowing the home team only two shots on net in the last twenty minutes. It was another bad night for Thrasher fans, who booed Kovalchuk mercilessly the entire game, basically it was Scott Gomez like booing. I guess I can understand it to a degree with the contract he turned down from Atlanta but sometimes fans have to show common sense and understand when a guy actually wants to win as opposed to being paid to show up.
Although Kovalchuk didn't get on the scoresheet in his 21:07 (or even register a shot!) at least he had a better night than ex-Devil Nicklas Bergfors who was on the ice for all three goals against in his 16:46. Johnny Oduya had a little bit better night, playing 22:55 with only a -1. Still, the Devils eliminating the Thrashers with Brodeur making more history didn't exactly do much to improve the fans' collective mood.
Earlier on I alluded to the fact that most of the talk was about Kovalchuk, but some of it was about a mini-contreversy that's suddenly come up with Jamie Langenbrunner who basically has clammed up publicly the last few days, since he got scratched on Saturday. Apparently the captain wasn't happy about missing his first game all season, although whether it's because Jacques Lemaire actually did sit him or was resting him the way he did defenseman Paul Martin is unclear. There is precedent for the Devils hiding a benching by claiming they were resting someone, with Brian Rolston a few weeks back.
While you don't want the captain acting like a drama queen at this point, if in fact he was benched I support the coach's decision. Not so much because his play merited a benching but more as a means to send a message to the rest of the team. Too many of my blogs in the last three months have been basically e-tearing out my hair over this team's underachieving. Maybe it's not so coincidental that since Lemaire opened eyes and ruffled Jamie's feathers by benching the captain, the team's actually started to resemble its early season juggernaut the last three nights, eliminating two teams from the playoffs.
And to comment - or rant - on another off-ice matter for a moment, as annoyed as Jamie may or may not have been about his scratch, that's how annoyed Devil fans with iO Cablevision were during the pregame, when somehow despite there being four different channels for a hockey game (MSG, MSG+, MSG2 and the iO overflow station) there was no Devils pregame anywhere on our televisions. Oh, it was on for about two minutes then went off in favor of the Isles pregame, which was on two or three channels depending on when I looked. Of course the Ranger pregame was on anywhere from two to three to four channels.
I mean come on, you have to get the cable signal straight the last week of the season. Everyone knows the Isles, Rangers, Devils and the NBA's Knicks are all playing on the same night, there were no changes to the schedule. They should all be on one channel and not be switching around during the pregame. Of course I missed the pregame interview with Kovalchuk that other non-iO Cablevision subscribers did get to see, the next time I got to see the pregame was the tail end of Stan Fischler's interview with Thrasher GM Don Waddell, twenty minutes later. Oh, did I mention the channel guide was not even accurate at all in saying where the game would be? Instead of it being on the CSPAN overflow it was on the iO channel.
Thank goodness the team's at least started to operate better than the cable companies. Our win, coupled with the Penguins' fourth loss in four games against the Caps this season put us in control of the division by having not only a two-point lead but the tiebreaker as well. In short, two wins in our last three games clinch the division no matter what the Penguins do. We've already clinched home ice in the first round so at least I know I'll be going to the Rock plenty this week, between the final two home games over the weekend and the first two playoff games which will in all likelihood either be Wednesday-Friday or Thursday-Saturday.
We're also one point up on the Sabres for the second seed with three games remaining for both teams, including the final game of the season against each other at the Rock after the Sabres kept pace with a win over the Rangers I'm sure Derek'll have more about later. Especially when hearing a little of the postgame on 1050 driving home from the movie when Bill Daughtry was taking John Tortorella to task for pulling Henrik Lundqvist (embarassing him really) with the season on the line. I don't know what Derek's reaction was to this but mine upon hearing it was 'ruh roh'.
Anyway, I'm off to watch some of the game before going to bed.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Martin Brodeur (19 saves, SHO, 600th career W)
- Zach Parise (goal, +2)
- Danius Zubrus (two assists, +3)