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Game 80: Devils vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The New Jersey Devils only need a point.  They just need some positive result tomorrow night to clinch the franchise's eighth Atlantic Division title and at least the third seed in the Eastern Conference.    The Devils also clinch if Florida wins - and remember, Florida's success is the Rangers' loss, so GO CATS GO - against Philadelphia in regulation.

Like against Buffalo, Gulitti and Chere both report that Patrik Elias and Niclas Havelid will not play against Toronto.   Again, I have no issue with this.  There's no need for Elias or Havelid to over-exert himself and risk further injury right before the playoffs. The offense has discovered how to score goals again, they have got their proverbial "groove" back.  They'll be fine for another game.  As for the defense, I felt that Andy Greene did quite well except for the dumb penalties he took.  He deserves some playing time and a less-rusty Greene will be an asset for the playoffs. 

That said, both Gulitti and Chere report that Sutter is against resting players for the sake of resting players.  I agree with the head coach, the Devils have won their last two games but it's still after a 6 game winless streak.  New Jersey still has to keep at playing urgent, commanding hockey to prevent slipping into another slump.  So expect Martin Brodeur to start in net for New Jersey.

As far as the Leafs are concerned, well, their season has been over for a few weeks now.  Pension Plan Puppets are already calculating their position for the John Tavares Sweepstakes 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  The squad is even Antropov-less, now that he is one of Them now.  That said, taking them lightly is a poor choice.  For starters, the last time the Devils played them, it took a highlight-reel worthy effort from Johnny Oduya to end it all in overtime.  The Devils' shooting was plentiful but not dangerous; and Vesa Toskala stood on his head all night.   Toskala won't probably start as according to Yahoo!'s report on the Leafs, Martin Gerber has been named the starter.

2008 - Martin Gerber 10 586 4 5 0 1 35 3.58 315 280 .889 0

Even with a different goaltender, there's no reason the same couldn't happen again, really.  And even though Toronto's playing for pride and they only won 2 of their last 6 - those two wins came against Washington and Philadelphia, two very good teams that happen to be above and below New Jersey, respectively.   Factor into this that New Jersey has not beaten this team in regulation this season: they have lost to Toronto twice in a shootout (10/29/08 and 12/16/08) in addition the aforementioned overtime win. At that point, does it matter that Toronto is the league's worst at stopping goals (an average of 3.54 per game!).

For the Devils to continue retaining and sharpening their edge, a regulation win over Toronto would be ideal.  The Devils basically need to play like they did in the first forty minutes against Buffalo; solid hockey in both ends, not conceding the neutral zone, and not letting up on the attack.   Despite what the sentiment may be at blogs like Pension Plan Puppets (who will have a preview of their own, I'm sure) or Bud Blog, this is not a gimmie for the Devils.  They'll have to go out there and work for it; hopefully, they'll do so and finally clinch the Atlantic.