I got a lot of postgame info last night. Most of it I used in Postgame Thoughts, yet some spilled over into today.
Here are some leftovers from the Devils’ 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For whatever reason, the arena seemed exceedingly quiet until Travis Zajac’s second-period goal.
Maybe the Pens were playing a perfect road game. Maybe the 16,122 were tense and sad about the Devils’ final home game. But whatever the reason, the crowd was very quiet.
Even as the Devils mounted their comeback it seemed quiet. I guess that’s what happens when you’re unaccustomed to missing the postseason.
Still, Devils coach Peter DeBoer credited the team’s supporters.
“Fans have been amazing,” DeBoer said. “I can’t thank them enough. I really feel badly that we’re not giving them playoff hockey this year.”
Pittsburgh’s much-heralded trade-deadline additions have been outstanding.
Jarome Iginla has nine points in 12 games. Jussi Jokinen scored on Thursday– his fifth goal in nine games as a Penguin– and Brenden Morrow’s assist last night gave him 12 points in 14 games.
I nearly tweeted during the second period Thursday that if the Penguins were going to play defense like they had been, and Sidney Crosby and James Neal return, no one would beat them.
Then Pittsburgh gagged a 2-0 lead and lost 3-2.
Pittsburgh has an embarrassment of riches offensively, and the Pens are pretty strong on ‘D’ as well. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Stanley Cup champion. Still, there’s something lingering I don’t like about this team.
Patrik Elias told reporters last night “They’re good at making plays, and they turn the puck over quite a bit to. You can get some opportunities. “
Teams like that don’t typically win the Stanley Cup these days.
After falling behind 2-0, against the east’s best team, the Devils could’ve packed up the tent but didn’t.
“We played well against them all year,” Devils goalie Johan Hedberg said. “I can’t say that we’ve had very many off-nights the whole season.”
The first two periods seemed like a microcosm of the Devils’ season: outplay and outshoot the competition but trail.
“We’ve outplayed teams, we’ve outshot teams, we’ve done everything right,” Devils forward David Clarkson said, “and we’ve had bounces go against us.”
Still, the Devils caught some breaks. The puck appeared to hop on Evgeni Malkin as he was all alone in front of Hedberg. That brief miscue allowed Ryan Carter to backcheck and deflect Malkin’s shot into the protective netting over the glass.
On Ilya Kovalchuk’s third-period game-winning goal, the Devils’ winger attempted a pass to Andrei Loktionov, which found Brandon’s Sutter’s stick instead. Pittsburgh’s forward redirected the pass into an open net, putting the Devils ahead.
The Devils obviously will not be playing postseason hockey this year.
Yet, somehow they still managed to claim the season series from the Eastern Conference’s top team.
New Jersey came from 2-0 down to send its home crowd out with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Prudential Center.
“We played well against them all year,” New Jersey’s starting goalie Johan Hedberg said. “I think tonight we got a couple of bounces … and it was enough.”
Ilya Kovalchuk recorded a goal and an assist, and Patrik Elias recorded two assists, as the Devils won for just the fifth time this year when they did not score first. New Jersey improved to 19-18-10 and 3-1 against the Penguins.
“When you play against the best players in the league, it always fires you up,” Kovalchuk said. “They have a few of them out there.”
New Jersey will close its regular season Saturday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
“This is a big rivalry,” Devils forward David Clarkson said. “We’re going to come out and play hard.”
Matt Cooke and Jussi Jokinen each scored for Pittsburgh, as the Penguins fell to 35-12-0.
Making his NHL debut on Thursday, Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas admitted he was nervous.
Gelinas was a minus-1 in 15:59. He started the game on defense along with Peter Harrold.
“I was surprised to be on the starting five,” Gelinas said. “That made me more nervous. After the first shift, I think I felt better out there and just realized it was another hockey game.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer admitted he liked what he saw from the 21-year-old defenseman.
“He was solid,” DeBoer said. “He moved the puck well. He gave us an element that you can never have enough of: a big, solid puck-moving defenseman.”
“I thought he played very well,” the netminder said. “You couldn’t tell it was his first game … he looked great.”
DeBoer told the media Thursday morning he’d try to keep his young defender away from Pittsburgh’s superstar-forward Evgeni Malkin, though Gelinas did meet Malkin for a few shifts.
“[Devils defense coach] Scotty [Stevens] believes on throwing them into the fire,” DeBoer said. “He did a good job.”
New Jersey’s defense as a whole was great, limiting Pittsburgh to just 18 shots on goal.
“This is a team that’s averaging 30-plus [shots] per night,” DeBoer said.
Hedberg, making his first start since March 19, stopped 16 shots to earn his first win since March 13.
“It was nice,” Hedberg said. “You want to finish strong, you want to finish with a strong feeling to walk away with … that was good for us.”
Hedberg’s best save came early on the second period when he stoned Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla with his left pad. Hedberg also stopped Kris Letang’s point shot with about four minutes left on what was Pittsburgh’s last real chance.
“He played unbelievable,” Kovalchuk said of Hedberg.
Clarkson was happy the 40-year-old backup could earn a victory in what likely was his final start of 2013.
“Moose is one of the best teammates you’ll play with,” Clarkson said. “It was great to get that win for him.”
Kovalchuk’s goal at 13:50 of the third turned out to be the game winner.
Kovalchuk received a pass from Steve Sullivan and cruised in on right wing. He sent a pass towards Andrei Loktionov that hit a Pittsburgh’s Brandon Sutter and beat Marc-Andre Fleury, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Kovalchuk admitted he was trying to pass but caught some luck.
“I was passing,” he said. “[Loktionov] was wide open. It doesn’t really matter.”
Kovalchuk also admitted that he and Loktionov would join Team Russia in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in Sweden and Finland.
“We’ll play together there,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s an honor to play there for your home country … they’re the reason why I am where I am right now.”
Kovalchuk also admitted how difficult 2013 has been on him. The superstar winger missed 12 games with a shoulder injury and has registered just 11 goals and 20 assists in 36 games.
“I think, overall with the injuries, this was the worst season of my career,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s not easy.”
Prorate Kovalchuk’s stats for a full season– including the 12 missed games– and he’d have 60 points, which would be a career low.
With his two assists, Elias boosted his team-high point total to 36.
Elias, who will be an unrestricted-free agent at season’s end, received chants of “Pat-ty” from the crowd throughout the night, including at the end when he was being interviewed by MSG’s Deb Placey.
“It’s great,” he said. “They showed their appreciation. I was trying to do my best job out there, and the fans recognized that out there. It feels great.”
The Devils were happy to send their fans out with a win in the team’s final home game.
New Jersey posted 18 sellouts in 24 home games this year. Thursday night’s attendance was 16,122.
“We owe it to our fans,” Clarkson said. “Our fans have been fantastic. They’ve been supportive, so we came out and we played hard there tonight.”
DeBoer admitted the team’s last home game was “bittersweet.”
As I said on Twitter postgame, this was an impressive win for a lot of reasons. Yes, the Devils probably should’ve played like this at some point during their 10-game slide. No, two more wins like this won’t drastically change how we look at the season. However, there were bright spots in this game that lend themselves toward a positive look for next season and it’s possible missing the playoffs flipped a switch in the psyche of a lot of these players, which is another topic for another day. As for tonight’s game, some thoughts…
Fortitude: At least for me, the most impressive part of tonight’s win came after the Canadiens scored two unanswered, the second of which came including one in the final minute of the second period. We’ve seen the Devils melt down multiple times in that scenario, giving up an early goal in the third and going on to lose in regulation or in extra play. It’s been one of my biggest criticisms of this Devils team, particularly during their recent slide. This team lacked a strong enough mental edge to their game to rebound from “woe is us” moments. Tonight, though, they didn’t need a timeout to correct them and while they struggled to get shots on net in the third, they still kept the Canadiens at bay for long stretches. Also, the Habs came out in the third and tried to bully the Devils, who fought right back. Ilya Kovalchuk, for one, went right at the Canadiens after he got hit from behind. Kovy’s response, along with the the energy he’s played with and the way he drives the train (so to speak), has me wondering if it should be Kovalchuk with the captain’s “C” next season. I know Salvador is respected in the room and a lot of guys like him, but would it kill them to give it to Kovy and have Salvador take an “A?” I think it would be a wise move that would help shape the team’s mindset going into next season. Food for thought.
After Ilya Kovalchuk was seen wincing and flexing his shoulder Sunday, there were some questions as to whether Kovalchuk was healthy enough to play now that the Devils have been eliminated from the postseason. Lou Lamoriello put those questions to rest Monday.
GM Lou Lamoriello says Ilya Kovalchuk is healthy now and will play the Devils' remaining 3 games.
He doesn’t come out and say the phrase “we deserved to make the playoffs,” but it’s pretty easy to read his meaning. I’ve never been a fan of players, coaches or fans talking about what was deserved or what should’ve happened. The fact is the Devils didn’t make the playoffs. Obviously, injuries to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk played a big part in that. The two missed nearly two months combined — a brutal thing to handle in a regular season, let alone a shortened one. However, this team was built poorly to begin with and both Lou Lamoriello and DeBoer mismanaged it at different points of the season. From the Stefan Matteau situation to not signing a veteran scorer before the season began, there were multiple missteps from a roster point of view. Would the Devils have made the playoffs in an 82-game season? Maybe. Maybe they would’ve overcome the injury issues and had more time to find some secondary scoring, but there’s always the possibility the Flyers and Hurricanes would’ve had time to turn it around. There’s no “deserve” when it comes to qualifying for the postseason. We saw 45 games worth of hockey from this Devils team in a 48-game season and they simply weren’t good enough.
A lifeless start, a couple of bad penalty calls and suddenly the Devils were frustrated, losing and on their way to playoff elimination. All in all, a sad but fitting end (as far as playoff chances go) to a season that was flawed from the get-go. Some thoughts…
Two things: When you combine a lack or energy with some questionable officiating, you usually get one of two results. Sometimes the team will take on an “us against the world” mentality, snap out of their funk and go on a tear the rest of the game. That didn’t happen today. Instead, the Devils went further into their shell and seemingly quit on the game and essentially their season. Even Martin Brodeur admitted that he felt his teammates gave up when things didn’t go their way. The Devils basically mailed in the first period, negating to forecheck or apply any sort of offensive pressure on the Rangers. It was almost like the Devils came out assuming they were already eliminated from the playoffs. While it was a mathematical eventuality, it’s still disconcerting to hear players after the game talk about how they knew it was just a matter of time. When you hear stuff like that, you can understand why you get a first period like the Devils had today.