Going into tonight’s game, the Devils sit in fourth place, two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead with seven games left. That’s important to note, because the difference in points puts the Devils fourth in the conference, while the Penguins sit in second place. And while two spots might not seem like a huge deal, the Devils road to the Cup may depend on their conference position come playoff time.
There’s no doubt the Devils want the second seed going into the playoffs. It gives them home-ice advantage for the first two series, and they could avoid the Washington Capitals until the conference finals. Also, if the standings remain the same and only New Jersey moves into second, the Devils would play Montreal in the first round. This would be a great matchup. The Devils play well against Montreal, and they play good hockey on the road in the Bell Centre. Not only that, but Martin Brodeur owns his hometown team. The future Hall-of-Famer’s career record against the Canadiens is 38-16-0 with five ties. I think Brodeur’s record alone shows the importance of grabbing the second seed. The Devils can play a team they dominate, and they also earn home-ice advantage.
The most important part of the number two seed is avoiding the Capitals for the first two rounds. The Devils are 3-1-0 against the Capitals this season, and they would probably play well against them. But facing the Capitals early could be trouble. Why not get the higher seed and face them for the chance to win the conference? Their goaltending might not be great, and the defense might be spotty. But the Capitals are the best team in the league, and with the way Jose Theodore is playing right now, they could be a hot team coming into the playoffs. Clinching the second seed allows the Devils to completely avoid them, making the first and second round series potentially easier.
The fourth seed would take away several of the advantages of the second seed. The Devils could only clinch home-ice advantage for one round, and they would probably have to face the Capitals in the second round. The Devils are 3-0-0 against the Senators, currently the fifth place team. While the first-round may not be tough, the second seed increases the chances of seeing the Sabres or the Capitals in the second round. Both teams present a daunting opponent. Not only that, but the second-round matchup would give the other team home-ice advantage.
The second seed is the most desirable position for the Devils. By taking fourth, they’ll miss out on several advantages, including getting home-ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Also, the Devils will be able to avoid a matchup with the Capitals until the conference semifinals, if both teams make it that far. With only seven games left, the Devils need to make a push for the second seed. With a game in hand and only a two point deficit, there is no reason why the team can’t leapfrog Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division crown – and the number two seed.
Photo Credit: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press