Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Devils get some St. Patty's luck to hold off Thrashers
In spite of my fellow blogger's premature celebration of Thursday's festive holiday, perhaps the luck of the Irish was with the Devils a couple of days early tonight. No doubt Thrashers coach Craig Ramsey had different thoughts about Evander Kane's game-tying goal with just over half a minute remaining in a 3-2 game getting waved off, costing Atlanta at least one precious point and dealing their playoff chances a body blow. Heck, the Thrashers could have blown us out of the building in the first period if not for some spectacular saves by Martin Brodeur.
Yet when it was all said and done, the Devils did come from two goals back and hung on for dear life late, finally sealing the game on an Ilya Kovalchuk empty-netter that made the end result 4-2. With Buffalo's loss in regulation against Carolina, the Devils again pulled to within six points of a playoff spot with a game in hand against the Sabres. Not to mention for the first time all season the Devils surged above NHL .500, with their record now 33-32-4 and having just thirteen games left to keep up their historic push.
Make no mistake, this game was yet another fifteen-round war, perhaps even more stressful than most that have come before it. For one thing, this game didn't follow the script of a scoreless first period. Atlanta got two goals, breaking our fifteen-game streak of not allowing a goal in the first - and it could have even been more if not for some key saves from Brodeur early. It seemed like every chance the Thrashers were getting was a breakaway or right on the doorstep. Finally they broke the lock on our goal when Kane found a wide-open Tim Stapleton with a beautiful cross-ice pass for an easy tap-in goal at 15:24. Just sixty-five seconds later Chris Thorburn scored, roofing a wrister through traffic that Brodeur couldn't find.
Being down two has certainly been an unfamiliar position during this run, the only time I can remember the Devils having to come back from more than one goal was in Tampa Bay, and we couldn't finish the job then in a 2-1 loss. With what could have been our playoff lives on the line though, the Devils started fighting back late in the period when Travis Zajac scored off a double deflection for his 13th goal of the season at 18:52. After getting a piece of Mark Fayne's shot from the blueline, it also deflected off Thrasher defenseman Ron Hainsey's skate before going in. Fayne and defense partner Henrik Tallinder got the assists on Zajac's goal, which made the score a respectable 2-1 after the first, considering how badly we were dominated for most of it.
For the next thirty minutes, it was all Devils as the lax nature of the first period gave way to what's become our customary 'down a goal with five minutes left'-type desperation. Outshooting the Thrashers 9-2 in the second, the Devils got the tying goal at 5:10 when Brian Rolston's cross-ice pass found Patrik Elias just below the faceoff circle and he quickly wristed his sixteenth goal of the year past Ondrej Pavelec to tie the game. About the only downer in the middle period was our power play of doom, which failed miserably on two nearly simaltenous chances in the final several minutes, only registering one shot on net combined in the four minutes of the man advantage.
Still, the Devils came out charged for the third just as they had the second, dominating early and eventually getting a goal from the new kid line. As one poster on NJDevs wryly observed, we should call this line Clarky's kids, after David Clarkson's charity. That moniker certainly fits considering he has virtual kids on his line in Mattais Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. And it was those two rookies who combined for the goal, with Tedenby showing nice hustle to win a loose puck in the corner, and finding an open Josefson in front for a one-timer that gave the young Swede his second goal of the season (and second in two games) at 4:14. Also getting an assist on the lead goal was Colin White, a rare offensive contribution for the big defenseman.
Now up 3-2, the Devils did continue on the attack for the next few minutes but around the halfway mark of the third period came all fans' biggest fear...the PREVENT OFFENSE. We went pretty much the last ten-twelve minutes without a shot on net and as we sat back, the Thrashers eventually started to get more and more good chances. On the game went to the final minute and eventually with Pavelec pulled and after a faceoff win in our end, Kane deflected home a shot from the point, which sent me into a fit - until I realized to my utter shock the goal was being waved off due to a high stick. Admittedly I'm still not sure it was a high stick or not, at the arena when I saw the replay I thought it was cause he got the stick to head-level but when I saw the TV afterwards and with even Doc Emrick and Chico Resch not being sure, I thought we might have gotten away with one.
Maybe we did but goshdarnit after all the bad breaks we've gotten this season we've been owed a couple for a while. Even with that disallowed goal, the Thrashers nearly scored on their next shift on a scrambly play in front where Brodeur had to dive on the puck in the crease to force another faceoff. Finally, the Devils managed to get the puck out of the zone and set the stage for Kovalchuk to sew up the game and score in his fourth straight game against the Thrashers, with Danius Zubrus springing him loose for his 26th goal of the season. After the game came a nice touch when former Devil and current MSG employee Ken Daneyko interviewed Zajac on the ice for the accomplishment of tying Dano's team record of 388 consecutive games played.
At the arena I knew the Rangers were kicking the tar out of the Isles, something I half expected after we'd annoyed them Saturday by calling their coach 'names' and knocked them out of the playoffs to boot. I didn't expect any help from them and wasn't sure I really wanted it from Carolina either (against Buffalo). Erroneously, some Ranger fan said that Buffalo had won the game against the Canes so all through the train and car ride home I was thinking, still eight points back but at least we got into tenth place and within two points of ninth. Much to my surprise I found out Carolina held on to that 1-0 lead when I got home, so I guess I should be happy the deficit's only six - but Carolina's late schedule does concern me a little. I didn't really want them involved in this race down the stretch either.
Still, being within six - and having a game in hand - is a tremendous accomplishment, but there's far more work to be done if this team's going to make history. Only thirteen games are left and our next one-game season is in Ottawa Thursday. We'd better win that revenge game against a bad team, at least that would get us 5-1 through this six-game stretch of non-playoff teams, a bare-minimum requirement beforehand imo. Then comes Retro Night against the Caps (now without ex-Devil Jason Arnott for the next week plus) Friday, our final home game for a week and a half before the NCAA Tournament comes to town and we go on the road for four straight.