Friday, February 4, 2011
Devils mistakes cost them a point against Florida
Since the first week of January, the Devils haven't had many slip-ups, going 8-1-1 in their prior ten games and fanning the ridiculous optomism about making a miracle playoff run. When you're in the position the Devils are you really can't afford to give away points. Tonight the Devils did, thanks to a series of mistakes that cost them an overtime loss to a team much closer to a playoff spot in the Panthers. Although it should fairly be said they were also gifted the point they got by some of the weirdest goals you'll ever see, so perhaps the 4-3 OT loss was a fair result if nothing else.
Yet I'll admit it, I felt bad about dropping the point. With winnable road games in Montreal and Toronto sandwiching a home game against Carolina the Devils could have really made some hay into doing the impossible this week, or merely the improbable of getting back to .500 (since we're still eleven under). About the only good things that came out of tonight were we got one point closer to Buffalo - losers in Pittsburgh - and got out of last place in the division completely.
I did partially fear a letdown tonight based on their emotional win at the Garden barely twenty-four hours ago although I'm not sure what happened to the Devils was really a letdown as much as it was breakdowns. Starting with the opening goal by Chris Higgins 6:52 into the first, when defenseman Anssi Salmela fell down while backpedaling, and that created an opening for Higgins to walk in and score. Salmela would continue to make mistakes but because the team was playing a third game in four nights and also plays again Sunday afternoon, Jacques Lemaire didn't want to shorten his bench so Salmela played on. Not that he would be the only ex-Thrasher to make costly mistakes tonight.
You could pretty much tell what kind of game it would be on the Devils' two goals in the first period, first when a ridiculous bounce off the backboard victimized goalie Tomas Vokoun, and Travis Zajac tapped in a loose puck for a farcically easy eighth goal of the season. Then, the haunted boards struck one more time for good measure, deflecting a Henrik Tallinder point shot that went wide right onto the stick of Jason Arnott for another tap-in goal at 11:01, Arnott's 13th. Showing their resiliency - and not for the last time today - the Panthers tied the game less than two minutes later when Dennis Wideman scored through a screen on the power play at 12:35. Florida's power play was an exercise in futility for the Devils' penalty killers, as the puck remained in the New Jersey zone for the entire eighty-four seconds of the man advantage, which included a terrible attempt at a clear from Zajac right before the goal.
Amazingly enough, luck proved to be on the Devils' side one more time in the second period when Mark Fayne's twenty-mile an hour high floater of a wrist shot somehow knuckled its way past Voukoun at 6:20 to restore the Devils' lead. Despite the fluke nature of the goal, the second period proved to be New Jersey's best, as they controlled the game for the latter part of the second period. Only a predictably inept power play kept the Devils from extending their lead, to say they were 0-3 with the man advantage would be kind omission. We registered few, if any quality chances on those power plays.
And most embarassingly one of those power plays resulted in our losing the lead at 12:52 of the third period, when Ilya Kovalchuk made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, then a hideously bad one by swinging and missing at a puck on edge, allowing Mike Santorelli to get a shorthanded breakaway. Instead of staying in his net though, Johan Hedberg came way out of it to try a futile poke-check that missed, allowing Santorelli an open net to put the puck in. It wasn't the first time Hedberg had ventured into no-man's land to unneccesarily play a puck. To be fair, he did have a nice poke-check on a breakaway in the second period but the second time he tried it he got a tripping penalty and odds are the Panthers realized Hedberg was getting play-the-puck happy so a third poke-check surely wasn't going to fool anyone.
After the ridiculous breakdowns on all three goals, the end result seemed inevitable somehow although the irony of Rostislav Olesz's OT winner after two minutes was that it came on one of the few shots where Hedberg stayed in his net the whole game, and he allowed a softy after he'd been stopping the puck well for most of the night. Still, I was beside myself that the Devils could lose this game with all the good fortune that had gone their way. It kind of seems like a wasted point really, though like I said at the top it was a wasted point that was probably gifted to begin with. Really if you were scoring this game like a boxing match, the Panthers were the better team for much of the night. Not much better, just marginally so - but still better.
And let's not forget, for the premature talk from Devils fans about getting back into the playoff race - Florida's already there, five points back of Atlanta for the eighth seed. Not to mention most of the other teams we're going to be playing are also in the thick of the race, so that makes having a historic run even more of a daunting task. As Lemaire's been preaching all along though, one game at a time. Hopefully Sunday we have yet another great performance from Martin Brodeur in Montreal, though as we saw with Henrik Lundqvist against the Devils the other night, even when you have another team's number eventually that gravy train goes missing.