That’s right, folks. The New Jersey Devils’ magic number is down to one. By defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 6-4 on Thursday evening, the Devils moved closer to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins in a shooutout, 3-2, which prevented New Jersey from clinching. However, Martin Brodeur looked sharp tonight and the Devils were able to capitalize on several scoring opportunities, leading them to victory.
New Jersey played exciting hockey in the first period of tonight’s game. Martin Brodeur was outstanding, as he has been all season, and the defense played well. Although the offense looked somewhat flat, the Devils were able to manage some scoring opportunities. With just 44 seconds to play in the opening period, Ryan Malone netted his 16th goal of the season to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. Trailing by one after one, the Devils looked to come back in the second period with a great amount of energy–and they did.
If the Devils had a better offensive period this season than they did in the second period tonight, I would like to know about it. Dainius Zubrus opened the scoring for New Jersey just 3:07 into the middle period to tie the game at one. It was Zubrus’ 17th of the season and it came while the Devils were on the penalty kill. About a minute and a half later, however, Ryan Malone scored his second goal of the game to put Tampa Bay back up by one. Jacob Josefson answered with his second goal of the season 6:54 into the period. Yet again, none other than Ryan Malone put the Lightning back up by one with his third goal of the game, 10:13 into the period. Ilya Kovalchuk netted goal number 33 3:13 later to bring the Devils even at three. Marek Zidlicky scored his second of the season on the power play shortly afterwards. New Jersey held on to a 4-3 lead heading into the third period.
This third period was particularly impressive. Although they had the lead, the Devils were not giving up. New Jersey continued its aggressive play and capitalized on some scoring chances. Alexei Ponikarovsky scored 2:25 into the third period to put the Devils up 5-3; this would stand as the game winning goal. David Clarkson moved closer to a 30-goal season by scoring 6:05 into the third, his 29th of the year. Tampa Bay switched goaltenders immediately after, which was “too little, too late” for the Lightning. With nine seconds to play, Trevor Smith scored for Tampa Bay; however, New Jersey would hang on to win the game by a score of 6-2.
Key Stat: The Devils had 38 shots on goal tonight while holding Tampa Bay to a mere 20. It is obvious that New Jersey has enough talent on offense to help them win. When they put the puck on net, the Devils get results. It’s as simple as that.
Three Stars: (3) Ilya Kovalchuk … (2) Ryan Malone … (1) Patrik Elias
Magic Number: ONE. With a Devils win OR a Capitals loss on Saturday, the Devils will clinch a playoff berth. As of right now, the Devils sit in the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference–a spot that fans seem to be content with. If the playoffs started tomorrow, New Jersey would play the Florida Panthers in the first round.
Next Game: Saturday, March 31, 2012 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
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