About two weeks ago, it looked as if a loss against the first-place overall in the NHL Nashville Predators had doomed the Devils chances of claiming a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, four games into a season-high six game homestand, the Devils have won all four and are now only eight points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Looking at their four wins over the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and a shutout win versus the Arizona Coyotes, shows that the Devils have been winning the tight ones (2-1 shootout win against Buffalo), the wild ones (4-2 against Vancouver that featured a crazy ending) and the ones they pretty much had a handle on from the get go (3-1 against the ‘Canes and the aforementioned 3-0 game against Arizona).
To round out the month of February, the Devils will see the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins at home and then follow the Friday night game against Boston with a 5PM day game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. This will be a great test for New Jersey as Calgary is in a good position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference and Boston is the team that the Devils need to catch to gain the final spot in the Eastern Conference. Follow that up with the game against Columbus, a day game after a night game, and you have a real test for the Devils here as the month comes to a close.
One of the guys who has been helping the Devils in this four game winning streak (the first such Devils streak in about two years) is Mike Cammalleri. After being kept off of the scoresheet against Buffalo, the Devils left wing had a power play goal and an empty netter against Vancouver, an assist on Andy Greene’s first goal of the year against Carolina and an even strength goal and an empty netter against Arizona. With two two goal games and five total points in these four games, Cammalleri, who leads the team with 22 goals this year, has been everything the Devils had hoped for when they signed him away from Calgary last summer.
Cammalleri will hope to continue his scoring ways against his former team on Wednesday, as the Devils hit a rough patch in their schedule. The team will play every other day (save the Boston/Columbus back-to-back) for roughly the next two weeks. Days off will be hard to come by from the end of February through March. Thankfully for the Devils, the rest of that schedule is home-heavy due to them playing almost exclusively on the road to begin the year. The Devils have been playing extremely well at home lately, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games at the Rock. The only really tough part for the Devils will be the week of March 9th when they make one final western swing, hitting Minnesota, Colorado and the Coyotes and then follow that up with a home game that next Tuesday against the always-tough Penguins.
Hopefully come the game against Pittsburgh, the Devils will still be in the playoff race and will have made some headroom there as well. The Devils have made things hard for themselves, let’s face it. They are pretty much in “must win” mode every game. But it is not entirely impossible as it stands now. The game against Boston will be a true test for New Jersey, but they cannot overlook a Flames team that has been surprising all season. If they can avoid the perils of that “trap game,” the game versus the Bruins should mean a little bit more on Friday.
The Devils are not entirely in the clear, of course. They do have to get some help from the teams they are directly competing with for that final wild card spot (the Flyers and Panthers) but they do have the game against Philly coming up next week and can gain ground on the teams. All they need is to keep playing the way they have at home, make sure they do not leave points on the table on the road and continue to get scoring from guys like Cammalleri – the guys who should be putting pucks in the net – and maybe from some other unlikely places (like Andy Greene) and everything will fall into place for the team.