After suffering their worst loss to the New York Rangers since October 30, 1996 last Saturday, the Devils returned home for Fan Appreciation Night at the Rock on April 7. Although they played a lot better in the backend of their home-and-home than they did in the front part at MSG, they still fell by a score of 4-2.
With that win, the Rangers clinched the President’s Trophy as top team in the NHL’s regular season and home ice advantage for as far as they advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers also swept the season series from the Devils. Both the President’s Trophy win and the season sweep of the Devils was the first time the Rangers had accomplished those feats since 1993-94 (coincidentally, the last time New York has won the Cup).
The story for the Devils in this game was penalties. They took seven of them, including a 5-on-3 in the first period, however only yielded one power play goal (to Ryan McDonagh at 14:32 of the first after Jacob Josefson had gone off for hooking). While the Devils penalty kill was certainly a positive, the fact that they were behind the eight ball for most of the night was a problem, especially since, like Saturday, they had a tough time solving Ranger goaltending – this time Cam Talbot, who made 19 saves.
Speaking of goaltending, Cory Schneider was brilliant for the Devils once again. He stood on his head at times, making 36 saves. Schneider has been New Jersey’s unofficial MVP for this season, along with Andy Greene. Greene also played well, jumping up in the offensive play when he needed to and getting some chances, while still playing a solid defensive game. He was named the game’s third star by the night’s attending media. He also led all Devils in time on ice with 24 minutes 11 seconds, second in the game only to Rangers defenseman McDonagh (who had six seconds more).
While it is true that defensemen generally spend more time on the ice other skaters, Andy Greene is exceptional when it comes to eating up minutes and really playing a lot of minutes. That speaks to his great conditioning, skill, reliability and the coaching staff’s trust in him. He is a calming force on the blueline for the Devils and, as Stan Fischler mentioned during the second intermission on the MSG+ broadcast, very few observers would be surprised if he is named the next Devils captain.
Offensively, the Devils got a good game out of the game’s second star, Steve Bernier. Bernier had a goal and an assist for two points on the night, as well as two shots and two hits. He is a player who might not be back with New Jersey next year, but he has proven his worth as an NHL player time and again. He has been pretty clutch for the Devils down the stretch, scoring timely goals when needed. He responded again tonight, scoring the Devils’ second goal less than a minute after New York’s James Sheppard scored to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
Patrik Elias also played a good game, scoring the Devils first goal – a power play goal – at 17:44 of the first. Elias is, of course, getting older (turning 39 this month), and he mentioned that he does not have many chances to make the playoffs left in his career, so he took the elimination from playoff contention just as bad as anyone on the team. He also was not happy with the way the Devils played Saturday at the Garden and wanted to prove something tonight.
The Devils penalty problems probably stemmed from the fact that they were embarrassed on Saturday and came out with a little bit more feistiness to their game. Unfortunately, the Rangers did not bite on a lot of their physicality and did not retaliate, often resulting in the Devils going to the penalty box more than they should have in a game they really wanted to win. They did play with pride and showed a fighting spirit, it is just that, as it stands right now, the Rangers are a better team than the Devils.
While any loss to the Rangers is hard for a Devils fan or the team, New Jersey can learn from this and make adjustments for next season. What kind of moves will the Devils make this offseason? Will they go the free agent route to get the scoring help they need, or will they make a trade? While there are some good free agents out there this July, going the trade path could work just as well. Toronto, in particular, will be in seller’s mode. The Devils would have to give up a lot to get a superstar, but if they can put together a deal that would get them something valuable, than the team would be wise to make it.
Hopefully the memory of the team being booed by Ranger fans as they saluted the fans on home ice after this loss will not fade quickly and the team will use it as fodder to improve and come back stronger next year.