Sunday, March 20, 2011
Devils win in Columbus to stop losing streak, keep faint hope alive
I admit, I thought our semblance of a playoff chase was done Thursday when we lost for a second time to Ottawa. Some more dirt got shoveled onto our grave the next night when we somehow managed to lose 3-0 to the Caps despite outshooting them 33-12 and generally outplaying them on Retro Night. Despite the shot advantage of that game though, it seemed as if every chance the Caps got was perfect while when we got chances they were hurried, low-quality or turned out to be excellent saves by Caps goalie Michael Neuvirth.
Thankfully the Devils got a rare easy win in Columbus to break the mini-losing streak, shutting out the Jackets 3-0 with Martin Brodeur getting his 115th career gooseegg, only having to make thirteen saves to do it. Although Ilya Kovalchuk had another frustrating afternoon (getting stopped on one more breakaway and hitting a post), David Clarkson continued his recent resurgence with two goals and Nick Palmeri finally broke out of a slump - two goals in his previous twenty-one games - with a third-period tally that essentially put the game away.
Despite our win, with the Rangers winning three in a row and the Sabres destroying the Thrashers last night, it looked as if the bubble teams were pulling away from us, especially when Buffalo took a 3-1 lead on Nashville at home this afternoon. However, the Preds' late rally and OT win restored a glimmer of hope, if only because the Sabres also have a tough game in Montreal Tuesday and play us on Saturday. If we can win in Boston and Pittsburgh (no easy task) we have a decent shot to be within five before our showdown in Buffalo.
That's still far away though, and yet the end of the season's closing in with just ten games left. The fact we're even talking about meaningful games at this point is remarkable. As is the fact we're again at NHL .500 with 72 points in 72 games, after starting with just 20 in our first 41. If we're going to find a way to finish the job though, the offense needs to keep improving. Even with this stretch, the Devils have by far the worst offense in the NHL, averaging barely two goals per game. For a time, Kovy was carrying our offense but despite getting insane icetime the last two games he's gone cold again.
Fortunately, another line seems to be picking up the slack - Clarkson and fellow rookies Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. Clarkson - who had two goals this afternoon - looks reborn with the kids, finally playing as well as he did in his breakout 2008-09 season before injury last season and a general malaise this year contributed to him being overpaid and underperforming. Both of the kids chipped in, with Tedenby getting assists on both of Clarkson's goals and Josefson firing the inital shot on net that Clarkson swatted in a rebound from to open the scoring at 9:24 of the first with his eleventh goal of the year.
Remarkably, Clarkson almost had a hat trick - after scoring again in the second period, he got a breakaway in the third, but lost the puck off his stick. Fortunately Palmeri put the game away with his seventh goal of the season at 3:22, giving the Devils a rare third period with breathing room. Yet after the Rangers' comeback (aided by Mario's favorite goon Matt Cooke) and the Sabres' early lead, it looked like today was going to be another total wash for our playoff chances. That is until Nashville scored twice in the final two and a half minutes of regulation, then won in OT to give themselves two important points in their own playoff race and deny the Sabres one.