Albany Devils Making Push to Playoffs

The New Jersey Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany Devils, are seeking the final playoff spot in a tough Eastern Conference race with a handful of games to go.

Albany currently stands at tenth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference (the AHL still uses the NHL’s old “1 through 8” conference seeding system, similar to the NBA) four points behind the Springfield Falcons (AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets) in the ninth spot. The Falcons are tied in points with the eighth place Portland Pirates (Arizona Coyotes affiliate), but Portland holds the eighth spot due to having more wins (with less games played). This means that with only one extra game played than Portland, and two games in hand with Springfield, the A-Devils are essentially four points out of the final playoff spot.

Albany currently has six games left, starting with a road trip that begins against the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa) on April 10, takes them to Hartford to play the Rangers’ affiliate the Hartford Wolf Pack on the 11th, and finishes up in Worcester to face the Worcester Sharks (San Jose) on Sunday, the 12th. The final three games of the season see them home at the Times Union Center against the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning) on April 15, then heading to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take on the Penguins on the 17th and then the season finale at home against Hartford on April 18. Of those teams remaining on their schedule, only Binghamton is not a playoff team currently. The Senators are in 13th place in a 15 team conference. It will be a tough road for the Albany Devils.

The Albany Devils will be without the services of Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau, who have obviously been called up to the NHL club for the final games of their schedule. Albany does have leading scorer Paul Thompson (32 goals, 20 assists, 52 points) and leading assist man Joe Whitney (20 goals, 29 assists, 49 points) to lead the charge and goaltending from Scott Wedgewood (12 wins, 13 losses, 2.69 GAA, .905 save %). These are the kind of guys that they could build a playoff team and, possibly, a deep Cinderella playoff run on.

Although a playoff spot is not totally out of the question, the A-Devils have a tough road to travel. It would be disappointing for the franchise should both the NHL and AHL club miss the playoffs, but there is hope. The AHL club is doing a fine job of developing players for the NHL, supplying the future for the New Jersey Devils.

Although it was twenty years ago, the Devils want to get back to being a model franchise as they were in 1995. That year, the New Jersey Devils, of course, won the Stanley Cup, and their then-AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, won the Calder Cup (the AHL’s championship). But just as important as getting a player accustomed to winning at the AHL level is getting them ready for the NHL itself. If Boucher and Matteau become productive members of the New Jersey roster and fulfill their promise, then Albany coach Rick Kowalsky and his coaching staff (which includes former New Jersey Devils Sergei Brylin and Johan “Moose” Hedberg) will have done their jobs well.

Counting Albany out of the playoffs at this point is not unwarranted, but they do have an outside chance and, as any hockey fan knows, it is all about getting in and seeing what you can do once you are there. What matters even more for teams in the American League is developing the next crop of players for their parent club and ensuring that the next generation of players is in good hands.

Devils Blown Out at the Garden

The Devils had a chance to hit their arch-rivals where it hurt the most: they could have knocked them further down in the race for the President’s Trophy as top team in the NHL’s regular season. Being the first overall team in the NHL would also guarantee the Rangers home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They are currently doing battle with the Anaheim Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens for that honor. In the first half of a home-and-home against New York, the Devils came up short in their objective of impairing the Rangers playoff hopes.

The Devils actually did the Rangers a favor by beating Montreal last night (April 3), as it gave New York a leg up with the Habs dropping the extra point. They helped the Rangers cause again on Saturday night when they dropped a head-to-head matchup at Madison Square Garden. The two teams meet again on Tuesday, April 7 at the Prudential Center in the back end of a home-and-home series.

The Devils played well in the Rangers end most of the game; they just could not solve goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Unfortunately, the Rangers played even better in the Devils end and pretty much dominated New Jersey all night. It was not pretty for the Devils. It seemed that the Rangers were connecting on every scoring chance, as they chased Cory Schneider early in the first period in favor of backup Keith Kinkaid, who had equal amounts of trouble from the offensively gifted New Yorkers.

Schneider was pulled after seeing three pucks behind him on the Rangers’ first six shots of the game. Ultimately, Kinkaid would give up three more as they would lose 6-1 in a complete drubbing at the hands of the Rangers. The lone New Jersey goal came at 16:30 of the third when a Tuomo Ruutu wrister beat Lundqvist off assists from Mark Fraser and Jordin Tootoo and broke the shutout. Although Ruutu got the credit, many (including Devils color analyst Ken Daneyko) felt that it was actually tipped in by Jacob Josefson and that the goal will be changed eventually on the score sheet. Ruutu, whether he gets the credit for the goal or not, played a good game with some passion, something that was mostly lacking from New Jersey most of the night and something that the Devils needed against such a high-powered opponent.

For the Rangers, Dominic Moore had two goals on the night, Rick Nash notched his 42nd goal of the season, Keith Yandle got his 44th assist of the year (as well as his 6th goal), while Derek Stepan, who victimized the Devils back in December with a hat trick, had a shorthanded goal at 19:57 of the second period.

The Rangers speed showed as they got to loose pucks left and right. As mentioned, they also converted on almost every offensive opportunity they had. The bottom line is that the Rangers won the little battles and the Devils could not keep up. New York looked like a playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender, while the Devils looked like they were just coming out of training camp.

Hopefully for the Devils, they will come out swinging on Tuesday and give the Rangers a real fight for their two points. The Devils may be not be playing for a playoff spot, but they are playing for pride. Part of that pride is not rolling over for your arch-rivals. The Devils were embarrassed at the Garden and that will, most assuredly, light a fire under them for the re-match at The Rock.

The New Jersey Devils have one more chance to change the Rangers fortunes as they head into the postseason. Hopefully they were embarrassed sufficiently enough that they will come out on Tuesday with some fight. If they do not, it could be pretty a pretty ugly scene.