In just over 24 hours any hope the New Jersey Devils had for making the playoffs disappeared without a fight.
New Jersey had a chance to pick-up valuable points in the East with games in Pittsburgh and Buffalo on back to back nights. But, the Devils were shut out on the scoreboard and in the playoff race. It was the third time in five games the Devils were held without a goal. They’ve now gone 173:55 without scoring.
On Friday night the Devils fell 1-0 in a shoot-out loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 21 shots, including stopping all 3 Devils shooters in the shoot-out. It was his third shutout this season.
Martin Brodeur made 26 saves and was credited with the 116th shutout of his career, but even another solid outing couldn’t overcome his teams lack of scoring. The Devils managed just one shot on Fleury in the opening 20 minutes. It was a bad omen for New Jersey because their offense never really got going. It was the second time this season they were held to a lone shot in the first period.
New Jersey then headed to Buffalo to face the Sabres in what was supposed to be the biggest game of the year. But, Ryan Miller all but ended any of their playoff hopes. Miller stopped 30 shots for his fifth shutout of the season in leading the the Sabres to a 2-0 victory at home.
The Devils have just two goals in their last four road games.
It’s not as though the lack of scoring punch in new to the Devils. They have scored just 155 goals this season and rank dead last in the NHL in goals per game.
During their incredible run the Devils were able to overcome their offensive short comings, including winning an incredible 16 games by one goal. But, it seams as though all the magic is now gone. The once unbeatable Devils have hit a wall, going 1-4-1 in their past six games. Shrinking their league worst goals a game average from 2.08 to a microscopic 2.03.
The Devils have put themselves in unfamiliar territory. They are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. With seven games left they have fallen 12 points back of Buffalo for the East’s final playoff spot. If the Sabres earn any combination of three points or the Devils lose three it will mathematically eliminate the Devils from the playoffs.
In 1995-96, they were eliminated on the last day of the season by the Ottawa Senators. (on my birthday no less) You would have to go back 22 years, 1988-89, to find the last time the Devils played a meaningless contest with this many games left. If the Sabres win their game Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Devils lose Wednesday to the New York Islanders, the Devils will be eliminated. They’ll have to finish out the reminder of the season without a chance to play in the post season.
But, New Jersey is 34-36-5 with 7 games remaining. They have still a chance to finish over .500 and that in itself is something worth playing for.
The miraculous playoff run may be over but you can’t erase the fact that in their last 34 games the Devils went 24-7-3 after a horrendous first half. That alone is an accomplishment to be proud of.
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With the Season on the Line, Devils Offense Dries Up
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