For the Albany Devils, winners of eight of their last eleven, tonight (Friday, April 17) is a must win situation as they head to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take on the Penguins. But that is nothing new for them, as they have been playing for their playoff lives for their last few games.
The A-Devils, American Hockey League affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, are currently two points out of a playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference behind both the Springfield Falcons and the Portland Pirates, with 81 points. Portland has a game in hand on both Springfield and Albany, but the Devils have less overtime losses than either the Pirates or the Falcons. They do have more shootout losses than either team. The Devils are 25-28-5-6 coming into tonight’s contest, while Springfield is 37-28-8-1 and Portland is 37-27-7-2. Both the Pirates and the Falcons come into this weekend’s AHL action with 83 points each.
As for the Penguins, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has already clinched a Calder Cup playoff spot (they are currently seeded fourth and would take on the Syracuse Crunch in the first round if the playoffs started today). The Penguins, like their NHL affiliate, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are a tough team with a lot of offensive weapons. They also have great goaltending. According to the scouting report on the A-Devils official website, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was named the winner of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding netminder on Thursday. He has a record of 25-9-3 in 39 appearances in goal for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has a goals against average of just 1.51. He owns a .943 save percentage and 12 shutouts. All of this led the AHL for the 2014-15 season and were, in fact, all the second best in each category in AHL history (a history that spans 79 years).
Albany has just two chances to gain the points necessary to get into the playoffs: tonight against the Penguins and Saturday at home against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Even if the A-Devils were to run the board against both teams, they do not control their own destiny and would need some help along the way. A Portland and/or Springfield loss here or there would do wonders for them. But the team believes it has what it takes to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs in 2015.
They are coming off of two straight victories, April 12 versus the Worcester Sharks (3-2) and April 15 against the Crunch (6-2). In the Syracuse game, the Devils exploded for five goals in the third period. Matt Lorito tied a team record with five points in that game (one goal and four assists) and it was another crucial win for the A-Devils.
Add to all of this that their last game of the year, the one that could possibly decide their fate, is against Hartford and, for New Jersey fans at least, this has all of the makings of high drama. Although the rivalry between Albany and Hartford is not as strong as New Jersey versus New York, New Jersey fans looking on would love to see the Albany Devils qualify for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs by beating the Rangers’ affiliate. It may be the minor leagues, but a win in a rivalry is a win. It may be more important in that aspect to fans of the NHL club, but Albany fans would take it because it would help their team’s cause in getting into the playoffs. This is a situation where there is common interest between fans of the NHL and the AHL clubs.
The Wolf Pack have already clinched a playoff spot, they are the third seed, by way of leading the Northeast Division, and would face the Providence Bruins would the playoffs begin today. It is important to note that, although Hartford leads the Northeast Division, they have not yet clinched and the Crunch are tied with them in overall points. Syracuse could still win the division, which would knock Hartford down to the fifth seed as it stands now.
As for the Devils, the team is doing all they can to qualify for a chance to compete for the Calder Cup. It can be done and, as every hockey fan knows, all you need is to get in and your team can do great things once it is in the postseason.