The New Jersey Devils needed this game. They knew that if they could beat the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, then there would be a boost in morale to do even better in the remaining regular season games. Unfortunately, they did not show up for the majority of the match and that cost them another game.
Right from the start of the game, the physical tone was set. I’ll give props to Devils for playing their hearts out. Regardless of the amount of effort the Devils showed in the first period, they found no puck luck and actually conceded a goal to Toronto (just 4 minutes into the game). A shot by ex-Devil Mark Fraser was redirected in by Leafs forward Leo Komarov. Despite the goal, the Devils never gave up and kept getting great chances. The problem? Not a single one beat James Reimer. The best chance for New Jersey came during a 5-on-3 power play, but they failed to set up any great chances. That mediocre power play really told me that (at least through one period of play) the Devils did not come to play when they knew they should have.
The second period wasn’t very different from the first. The Devils’ chances weren’t as high as they were in the first but those second period chances, in my opinion, were much stronger. At times, play got really chippy, especially between David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf. With the exception of more power play failures, nothing really changed for the Devils. The score was still 1-0 as the teams skated off. Devils fans knew that the final 20 minutes could set the tone for the entire season. So I really hoped that they would try something different.
I was actually really impressed by what the Devils did in the third period. They had a plethora of opportunities that could have all been goals. Reimer was playing incredible and was carrying his team to another shutout. With around 12 minutes left, Leafs centerman Tyler Bozak got a breakaway and took full advantage of it. His shot went off of Marty Brodeur’s blocker but Marty never saw it in time to save it. Peter Harrold did but his hand-eye coordination failed to save the puck from going in. Down 2-0 even after all that hard work, I expected the Devils to give up. I know in sports, giving up is never an option but based on everything that New Jersey did, I wouldn’t be surprised they did. Instead, they kept on trying. Finally, the Devils’ endeavors paid off. Clarkson finally put the Devils on the board by beating Reimer 5-hole. Leafs forward Nazem Kadri threw his stick in front of Clarkson while diving but nonetheless, Clarkson stayed with the play and cut the lead in half. Sadly, that would be it. The Devils got a power play with under 2 minutes left (with Marty pulled, it’s a 6-on-4), but Reimer and Toronto’s defense held their ground. New Jersey fell 2-1 in front of the sellout home crowd at Prudential Center, leaving a majority of those fans and Devils fans everywhere else in sheer depression.
So what does this all mean? Well, the New Jersey Devils have now lost six straight games. With the New York Rangers and New York Islanders both winning in their games, they both have 42 points. So the Devils’ 39 points still keep them in 9th. But wait, the Washington Capitals won too? Indeed, so with their win, the Caps have 40 points and now, the Devils sit in 10th place in complete disarray. This isn’t going anywhere if they keep this up. I honestly feel that they needed to win tonight to have a shot at great a great seed before the playoffs started. With this loss, I think they will have to fight for 8th. That will require them going at least 6-2-2 in their final 10 games. It starts tomorrow in Buffalo. That game worries me because the Sabres have been getting really hot lately. I’m panicking slightly but I will literally lose my mind if the Devils do not win tomorrow. They absolutely have NO CHOICE but to win. May the best of luck be with coach DeBoer and the New Jersey Devils.