The Devils may have been eliminated from a playoff position, but they still have much to play for in the final five games of the season.
Starting tonight (April 3), New Jersey will face three playoff bound teams in Montreal, the Rangers (in a home-and-home series) and Tampa Bay. They will finish the season against Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers, who are only six points out of the final wild card spot as of this writing. Their opponents have a lot to play for, will the Devils respond?
Their last game, on March 31 against Columbus ended in a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss at the Nationwide Arena. That loss was compounded by the fact that immediately following the Blue Jackets’ win over the Devils; they too were eliminated from playoff contention with a Boston win later that night. The Devils had fought back to tie things up and force the extra session, but ultimately fell to a Jack Johnson goal just 56 seconds into the overtime period.
The goal that tied things was a shorthanded goal by Mike Cammalleri. It was his 27th goal of the season (he notched number 26 earlier in the night off a power play goal in the first period) and puts him on track to get 30 on the year.
While not the glamorous number that 50 is (Washington’s Alex Ovechkin currently is the only player in the league with 50 or more goals with 52 currently), 30 is a solid number of goals in this lower-scoring era of hockey. His 27 goals currently leads the Devils. Could he hit the 30 goal plateau, it would put him in rare air as one of only a handful of players to score thirty or more goals in a season for four franchises (Cammalleri previously did it during his stops with the Kings, Flames and Canadiens).
Cammalleri was a great off season acquisition to say the least for the Devils. He can score from almost anywhere on the ice, a sniper who can also score from the hard angles. His 27 goals (so far) puts him in the top tier of first year Devils who have notched 25 or more goals. A list that includes Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer, two guys who were prolific and clutch goal scorers for the Devils, and key performers on the Stanley Cup teams.
Cammalleri would have to score three goals in the last five games of the Devils season to at least get to 30. It will not be easy. Starting tonight, the Devils face the Habs (who are battling for the first place overall spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference), have two games against the Rangers back-to-back (New York is fighting for first place overall in the Conference and has already clinched first place in the Metropolitan Division), face the Lightning (who are also battling for first place in the Conference and are locked in a battle with Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division) and the Panthers, who are looking to sneak into the playoffs by bypassing both Ottawa and Boston.
These are not going to be easy games for the Devils or for Cammalleri. But the team has shown a lot of fight throughout the season and will battle. Mike Cammalleri will be a huge part of the Devils success, should they have any. The Devils will also get to play spoiler, deciding who gets first overall in the Eastern Conference, with their games against the Canadiens and the Rangers, with the Lightning being on the periphery too. In addition, the final wild card spot (Florida) could conceivably be in the Devils hands.
The home-and-home against the Rangers (Saturday, April 4 at Madison Square Garden and Tuesday, April 7 at Prudential Center in the last home game of the season) also involves pride. No Devils team wants to lose to the Rangers. Knocking them out of the top spot in the Conference is icing on the cake. If the Devils could even set the Rangers back a little bit, it would be rewarding for both them and the fans.
Make no mistake, although the Devils have been knocked out of playoff contention, and have been out of it for about a week, they still have a lot to play for. They have veterans playing for contracts for next season, rookies trying to get noticed for next year’s team, Mike Cammalleri and a few others (including Adam Henrique) are playing for personal stats. But most of all, the entire team is playing for pride. Playing spoiler is just one of the perks that come along with that.