The New York Rangers looked like they had something to play for on Saturday afternoon.
The Devils did not.
New Jersey ended its disappointing campaign with a flat, uninspired effort in a 4-0 loss to New York at Madison Square Garden.
Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan each recorded a goal and an assist, Rick Nash scored twice, and Brad Richards had two assists as New York finished its regular season 26-18-4.
The Rangers locked up at least the No. 7 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs and can finish sixth if the Ottawa Senators lose their remaining two games– or if Ottawa finishes 1-1.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 20 shots he faced.
Johan Hedberg stopped 17 shots. The Devils finished their lockout-shortened 48-game campaign with 48 points– a perfectly-mediocre 19-19-10.
While the whole team looked disinterested, the Devils defense looked downright egregious.
Peter Harrold and Andy Greene were the Devils’ only two Even ‘D’ and both took penalties.
Adam Larsson and Marek Zidlicky were both minus-2 — Larsson could’ve gotten a secondary assist on Nash’s first goal. Meanwhile, Zidlicky was caught flatfooted on several occasions and made a weak pass that Stepan easily stole and dished to Callahan on his shorthanded goal late in the first.
Zidlicky will be an unrestricted-free agent at season’s end, and I’d be stunned if he returns. He was minus-10 and was essentially the posterchild for New Jersey’s defensive woes this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t much better, finishing a minus-2 and only earning two shots. Kovalchuk was caught watching on Nash’s second goal, failing to backcheck or do anything more than stare as Nash beat Hedberg.
Hedberg’s left pad was Nash’s top foil.
The dynamic winger could’ve had at least four goals– even five– but Hedberg’s pad stymied five of Nash’s game-high seven shots.
Hedberg’s left pad was good in New Jersey’s win Thursday, and he performed admirably in place of Martin Brodeur.
Still, Brodeur was still not immune from MSG ridicule. The Garden’s fans peppered him with “We want Marty” and “Mar-ty” song chants.
Who: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers When: 3:00 p.m. ET Where: Madison Square Garden, New York Media:TV - NBC; (Channel listings); Radio – Bloomberg (1130 AM)
Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)
The Devils enter tonight’s game 15-11-3 in their previous 29 season-closing games. The team is 7-0-1 in its past seven season-closers, and has not lost since April 4, 2004 vs. Boston (3-1). New Jersey is closing a season on the road for the first time since April 18, 2006 at Montreal (4-3 win).
New Jersey closed-out the home portion of its 2012-13 schedule Thursday with a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. The Devils are now 19-8-3 in their previous 30 home finales. New Jersey is 7-0-1 in its last seven home-closers (last loss, April 4, 2004 vs. Boston, 3-1).
The Devils finished with a 13-9-2=28pts mark at Prudential Center.
New Jersey finished with a season-high (tie) three consecutive home victories.
Thursday vs. Pittsburgh, the Devils improved to 5-17-6 on the year when allowing the first goal. New Jersey is 14-1-4 when scoring first this season.
Johan Hedberg (16 saves) earned the win Thursday in his first start since March 19 vs. the New York Rangers. He is expected to start this afternoon, as well.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game-winning goal and added an assist Thursday and now has points in three straight games (1g-3a-4pts). He is one assist shy of the 400-mark in his NHL career.
David Clarkson scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season Thursday. It was his sixth on the power play, which also leads New Jersey.
Sidelined: Salvador (wrist), Fayne (nagging injury)
The End: Today is New Jersey’s 48th and final game of 2013. New Jersey’s won four of its last five games and, though it won’t make the playoffs, nor will it be able to keep the Rangers out of the playoffs, the Devils can resign New York to the East’s No. 8 seed if they can win in regulation.
The Rangers will clinch at least the No. 7 seed with a point.
Moose: Hedberg will start in net in Saturday afternoon’s game at Madison Square Garden. The 40-year-old goalie stopped 16 shots in Thursday night’s win over Pittsburgh and is 0-1 against the Rangers this year.
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.”
No decision yet on whether any of the players called up from Albany Tuesday will play vs. Pens.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 24, 2013
Johan Hedberg is starting in goal, the Devils don’t have anything to play for, so why not give a guy like defenseman Eric Gelinas a shot Thursday when Pittsburgh comes calling? Alexander Urbom made his season debut on Tuesday night against Montreal and did OK.
If Gelinas — who the Devils are awfully high on — wants to see what the NHL is really like, why not play him against an injury-riddled Penguins team with nothing to play for.
Now, if that Crosby guy returns, I might alter that opinion. But, give the kid– who will likely get the chance to make the team in camp next year– a shot. What’s the worst that can happen?
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.
If there’s a phrase to sum up the Devils’ 2013 season, I think “banged up” might be the most relevant term. New Jersey’s injury problems have gotten to the point where players are missing games because of practice (WE TALKIN’ BOUT PRACTICE!) injuries. Not a game, not a game. PRAC-TICE.
The latest additions to the injury report ledger were Adam Larsson and Johan Hedberg, who both missed Wednesday night’s loss after being hurt in practice Tuesday. Larsson took a puck off his foot (from Anton Volchenkov, no less) and couldn’t even put his foot in a skate yesterday. Thankfully, he’s much better today.
#NJD Larsson: "I'm ready to play, so hopefully I play tomorrow."— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) April 11, 2013
Hedberg — wellllll, not so much.
#NJD DeBoer also said the team should know Friday morning whether Hedberg would be available to back up. Sat out last night w/ soreness— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) April 11, 2013
With Volchenkov likely facing a suspension and Bryce Salvador (wrist) in doubt, the Devils need Larsson tomorrow night. Hedberg? His usefulness is minimized by the fact that Martin Brodeur is never going to take a night off again — at least not this year. We should get definitive word on both players at tomorrow’s morning skate but I’d expect Larsson to be in the lineup against the Senators.