They were not supposed to even be in this position. Win and they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since they lost in the Final in 2012.
Well, hold on to your hats. The New Jersey Devils have crashed the party! They do not know where they will be starting the playoffs, who they will be playing or anything like that yet. But right now, none of that matters.
Taylor Hall got a huge monkey off of his back by finally getting to play in the postseason, they were in a playoff position all year and held on to it through the thick and the thin. A team that was supposed to be in a rebuild got a shot in the arm by winning the lottery last season and picking Nico Hischier first overall. Now they are playoff bound. A little ahead of schedule? Maybe. But it does not really matter.
New Jersey is back where it belongs, battling for Lord Stanley!
To the game against Toronto tonight. It was the Devils’ final home game of the season, a win would, of course, negate whatever Florida and Boston did tonight. The only other game that could affect seeding was Pittsburgh-Columbus. If that game did not end up as a three-point game (which it would), the Devils would leapfrog one of those two to move up to as far as third place in the Metro Division. The Jackets won that game in overtime, so it was a three-point game.
Also, Philly defeated Carolina, so there was no effect on the standings there. Florida is still technically alive since the Flyers have not clinched a spot just yet.
The healthy scratches were once again Jesper Bratt, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Johansson (who may end up getting some playing time at Washington on Saturday according to Deb Placey of MSG+ – I would assume to get him ready for the playoffs), Damon Severson and Drew Stafford. The lineup, including line combos and defense pairings, were largely the same as Tuesday’s Ranger game.
Keith Kinkaid made another start for the Devils and once again played fantastic. The NHL’s hottest goalie made 31 saves on a total of 35 Toronto shots. He made some big stops at opportune times, including off of Devils turnovers late in the first period and midway through the second. For the Maple Leafs, Frederik Andersen went, making 37 saves on 39 shots.
The Leafs have the second ranked power play in the NHL and it showed. The Devils tempted fate by taking a tripping call by Hischier at 6:44 of the first. William Nylander converted on that one, scoring his 20th of the season from Patrick Marleau and Auston Matthews at 6:56. It only took them a few seconds to take a 1-0 lead.
Overall, the Leafs were 1-for-2 on the man advantage with a single shot – which they converted on. New Jersey was 0-for-2 with two shots.
The second period was where the Devils grabbed the scoreboard and did not let go. It began at 7:55 when Pavel Zacha scored from Patrick Maroon to tie things. Zacha stripped the Leafs puckcarrier in the neutral zone and he and Maroon broke in to the Toronto zone. Zacha gave to Maroon and drove towards the net as Maroon skated up the near boards. Maroon passed back as Zacha went to the net. Zacha shot stick side just under the crossbar. Andersen might have gotten a piece of it with the knob of his stick, but it still found twine to make things 1-1.
Midway through the second, Michael Grabner made a nice individual play to steal the puck and jump past the Toronto defenders for a partial breakaway. He would not score, but it was a nice play.
The breakthrough came at 17:02 of the second period when Miles Wood scored the game winner from Maroon. Maroon took the puck at the Leafs’ blueline and drove along the far boards and behind the Toronto goal line. He protected the puck hard and made a quick pass to Wood as he was coming out from the other side of the net. Wood was set up in front of the Leafs’ net and he shoveled it five hole through Andersen to score what would be the game winner, making it 2-1 Devils.
As Placey noted just before the start of the third period, this was the most important 20 minutes of the Devils season so far.
And they responded. With some back-to-back action and some offensive pushes from the Maple Leafs, the Devils weathered the storm. They held on. Through a near scrap between the Devils’ Mueller and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdykm, they held on.
When Toronto pulled Andersen with about two minutes left, the Devils held on.
Through some icings and, finally, to the Leafs’ Mitch Marner being called for a trip with 19:29 left in the game to put Toronto on the penalty kill to end it.
When the final horn sounded, the Devils had weathered it all and were playoff-bound.
Statistically, the Devils outshot the Leafs 39-32, won 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were out hit by the Leafs 17-14 and had more blocks with 12 to the Leafs’ nine.
Individually, Andy Greene led in ice time with 24:38 (31 seconds on the power play, 1:18 on the PK) edging out Sami Vatanen who had 24:12 of ice time. Shots on goal saw Wood lead the team with five. Greene led in hits with three and blocks with four as he had a really good game. The Devils’ high in takeaways was two with Blake Coleman, Grabner and Will Butcher each registering there.
Many people have already made the connection that this 2018 Devils team strongly resembles the team from 30 years ago in 1988. We will see if they have what it takes to complete some upsets and get as far as that team did. Until then, we have the final game of the season on Saturday against the Washington Capitals. Seeding will still be at stake for most of the teams in the Eastern Conference. We will get it all sorted out then.
Until Saturday, congratulations to the New Jersey Devils on getting back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Enjoy this for now!
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