The consensus among NHL players asked about the Devils is that they’re just going to come up short of making the playoffs. They’ve made a magical run since January, going 23-5-2 in their past 30 games.
So what’s the problem? Oh yeah, that 10-28-2 record to start the season. New Jersey fired coach John MacLean in December and traded captain Jamie Langenbrunner Jan. 7. That’s when this turnaround started – though it’s more likely that new head man Jacques Lemaire’s system took some getting used to.
There’s little doubt that for the past 30 games, though, the Devils are the best team in hockey.
“Looks like they believe again. In our first two games at home, it looked like they were in disarray,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters Friday in Newark. “Now they’re compact, disciplined and they know exactly what they’re doing and they’re on a mission.”
That mission is to make the playoffs, something the Caps can do with a win Friday night at the Devils and a regulation loss by the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Islanders. And while the Caps are in, New Jersey might be like a horse that raced toward the front too soon and wishes the race were a mile and a half instead of a mile. In other words, the wire of 82 games might come up too soon for the Devils.
That’s what several players asked recently about the Devils said: There are just too many teams to pass and not enough games left. But to quote Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
New Jersey – counting Friday night’s matchup – has 12 games left and is six back of the eighth spot in the East. The Rangers (78 points in seventh), Sabres (76 points in eighth), Hurricanes (74), Thrashers (72) and Maple Leafs (72) stand in the Devils’ way. But they play the Sabres, Rangers and Maple Leafs each once more in their final 11.
It may be a long shot, but there’s a chance.