Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Kids lead the way in Devils' emotional win over Carolina
During the Devils' 9-1-2 stretch going into last night's game against the eighth-seeded Hurricanes, the Devils have cut a once insurmountable 27-point playoff deficit to a still-formidable 16. Our three-game 'series' against Carolina (three games in the next twelve days, including last night) might be the closest thing to a playoff series we have this year, since those games will either provide an opportunity to really get back in the race or finally end this spectacular run.
While the Devils' 3-2 OT win only got them one point closer in a game where they could have easily gotten the two-point difference of a regulation win, it still had the feel of a big victory. Even if this Devils team falls short of the playoffs, their future keeps getting brighter and brighter, as young Swede Mattias Tedenby scored two goals (including the OT winner) and fellow rookie Nick Palmeri got the tying goal late in the third to give their team a much-needed win.
Yet, as Jacques Lemaire pointed out in his postgame press conference there were a lot of things that were annoying about last night's game. For one, the team didn't exactly start out very well - sluggishly, in fact. At one point in the first period we were being outshot 7-2 and only had thirteen shots on net through the first two periods total. Specifically, Anton Volchenkov had a poor game taking three minor penalties and all but getting benched after the third one (a delay of game midway through the third period), which cost the team when Carolina's wunderkid Jeff Skinner scored his second goal of the game within six seconds of the power play's opening.
Our penalty killing was poor, going 1-3 although you couldn't blame the defense as much for Skinner's first goal and the first of the game by either team, a shortside floater that went through Johan Hedberg at 9:22 of the second. You could see the vet Hedberg's frustration after the goal as he slammed his blocker on the ice. And our power play? Don't ask...we didn't even get an opportunity with the man advantage. Personally I felt that the refs missed several obvious calls on the Canes but Lemaire chose to take a different tact and put the blame on the team for not drawing penalties.
Here, I disagree with the coach in that the Devils did more than enough to draw penalties in the third period, when they dominated play and outshot the Canes 19-5 (19-3 at even strength, since Carolina got two shots on their six-second power play). Usually that kind of dominance gets rewarded with a call at some point. Even with that, the team still had plenty of opportunities to get the two points in regulation including a shot by Jason Arnott outside the blueline that somehow eluded Cam Ward midway through the third, but rang off the post.
Arnott did at least have a hand in the Devils' first goal earlier in the game just a couple of minutes after Skinner's potentially deflating opener in the second. It was a play that started when Colin White intentionally shot a puck wide that rebounded to Arnott, who made a nice spin-a-rama pass to Tedenby in front, and the rookie put it home for his sixth of the season at 11:31. Still, the Devils were down 2-1 in the final four minutes - the season was on the line, folks - until Ilya Kovalchuk skated into the zone, drawing the attention of four Hurricanes, which left wide-open real estate for Palmeri in front to put home a rebound from a Kovy slapshot at 17:06 to tie the game.
Even at this late juncture the Devils still had the opportunity to turn one point into two during regulation but missed a couple of great chances in the final minute, including Patrik Elias getting robbed by Ward on the doorstep with just under thirty seconds left when it seemed as if he had a wide open net to score in. At this point Lemaire by his own admission took a chance, and played Tedenby in the overtime. Tedenby played just a shade under nine minutes in the game, but made every second count and put home the winner at 2:42 of the extra period, getting a big assist on the goal by Travis Zajac. Zajac took both defensemen out of the play - one by skating to the net and the other by skating into him - leaving a wide open front of the net for the rookie to skate in and put his second of the game by Ward.
Though there's still a long way to go to even dream of a playoff spot - we're still ten games under and my rule of thumb is talk to me when we're at .500 (Lemaire went further, saying he won't talk about the playoffs until we're two points back), at least pride has been restored to the sweater at last. A team decried for lack of heart and character for the second half of last year and the first half of this year is suddenly showing it in gobs. And a long, cold winter of meaningless games suddenly has some juice to it.
BoNY Three Stars:
1. Mattias Tedenby (two goals, +2)
2. Nick Palmeri (goal, +1 with 15:58 TOI)
3. Jeff Skinner (two PP goals, -2)