Friday, February 18, 2011

Twenty-eight hours of tension

Heading into these next two crucial games against the Rangers here and the Hurricanes in Carolina tomorrow night, the Devils remain the hottest team in the league during the second half of the season with a 13-1-2 record. Yet, because of how bad their first half was the Devils' season is basically hanging in the balance over these next twenty-eight hours. Why? Well we're twelve points out of eighth place currently, and the Hurricanes currently hold the eighth seed. Before playing us tomorrow they play the league-leading Flyers at home tonight. While the Rangers are still a bit above the eighth seed morass we do have a game in hand and can go some way toward dragging them back into the muck with a win tonight.

Two wins and other results going our way (Flyers over Canes in regulation) could leave us an unreal eight points out by Saturday night. Two losses, on the other hand could leave us as many as sixteen back and provide a fatal blow to our still slim chances of making the playoffs. Realistically at least the Devils should know either way which direction they're headed by the time the trade deadline arrives in a week and a half - though from all of today's activity you would have thought today was the deadline. Good heavens, even Tomas Kaberle finally got moved and our long international nightmare has finally ended...will wonders never cease?

A sign I saw at Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes said it all...'One shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time, WE BELIEVE!'. Certainly Patrik Elias believes, at least in our chances tonight. He all but guaranteed a win over the Rangers during his postgame interview with Steve Cangelosi at center ice after the Devils' exciting 3-2 win gave them their second straight over Carolina in the last two weeks. Believe me, a few weeks ago I wouldn't have thought I'd be regretting being on the sidelines tonight, letting my friend buy my tickets for this game. Although it seems as if the only times we ever beat the Rangers anymore are when I'm not in attendance. As luck would have it, I won't be at the Rock but supposedly Derek will be there for his first trip so I'm sure he'll have some must-read observations later.

Ironically I will be enjoying tomorrow's game out, at a viewing party. I've only been to one Devils viewing party before and that was earlier this season at the same place (Miami Mike's) off Route 10. While we lost - as was commonplace in the first half - I won big that night, scoring club seats to the next night's game against Detroit, an autographed Elias and Travis Zajac picture as well as an autographed Bruce Driver puck. The latter two prizes came in a raffle after I made a small $10 donation to David Clarkson's Clarky's kids charity. So guess I'll try my luck tomorrow again but I'll defer any other winnings in exchange for some more wins between now and March, when I'll be at the Rock next.

At least reinforcements have arrived in the person of Martin Brodeur, who was taken off IR and will be available to back up Johan Hedberg tonight. It's possible Brodeur will start tomorrow's game in Carolina. Yes Hedberg's been playing very well this month but it's always nice to have a Hall of Fame goaltender back, especially considering that both have made a good tandem in this second half of the season. Not to mention both goalies are 38 years old so it'd be nice to keep each one fresh as we go down the home stretch.

And the Devils will receive another critical addition to their lineup with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov from his three-game suspension tonight against the Rangers, re-exiling the shaky Mark Fraser to the press box. Also in the news, teen center Jacob Josefson has been recalled from Albany and while he won't play tonight looks to be in the plans for the team going foward since Tim Sestito was sent down yesterday, opening up a spot at center.

Whatever happens I'll be back on Sunday with thoughts on either a possible miracle in the making or the end of a brilliant run that - if nothing else - has proved that the first half was the fluke and this Devils team was actually what we thought they were going into the season.

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