It's been a long time, but the regular season is almost over. Last chance for teams to get all their problems sorted out in advance of the playoffs. Or, if you're on the bubble, last chance to make the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils are already in the postseason, the big questions remaining are what seed will they earn and what momentum will they carry into the playoffs.
I don't think we can answer the former definitively. Sports Club Stats runs simulations on where teams will finish; a methodology more solid than just guessing but even then it won't be long before we know for sure. Fortunately, recent history gives a clue as to the latter question. April has been pretty good to the Devils in recent seasons:
Your eyes are not deceiving you, the Devils did indeed go undefeated in 2005-06 in April. It was pretty much the best non-Cup winning month in Devils history by virtue of winning all 9 regular season games and then sweeping the Rangers in the first round. Good times. In any case, this table should prove to you that good results in April don't necessarily lead to good results in the playoffs. Still, I don't think this should be the season where the Devils test the opposite theory that doing poorly in April will lead to good results in the playoffs.
This year, the Devils will play six games in April: three on the road and three at home. Just like last season. These six games run the gamut of different challenges.
- First up are the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday. They pasted the Devils back on New Year's Eve, 5-1; but they've been very poor as of late. The game will be in New Jersey and will be the Devils' game in hand on Pittsburgh. If New Jersey wants the division, then this will be an Important Game.
- The very next night, the Devils travel on the road to play the Carolina Hurricanes. Another team who pasted the Devils the last time they came to their house. Which was also the day after another home game against a Western Conference team. Joy. But winning here would mean an end to the losing streak on second games on back-to-backs not to mention a nice road win.
- On Tuesday April 6, it's not just my birthday, it's the Devils continuing on the road into Atlanta. Yes, the playoff-bubble Thrashers. It may be bleak as of March 31 per the Falconer, but on that night, it's going to be all about getting points and making a point against Ilya Kovalchuk.
- Thursday has the Devils play their final road game of the regular season: the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are nothing but spoilers at this point, so a win would be good for momentum more than anything else.
- Saturday April 10 kicks off Fan Appreciation Weekend against the New York Islanders. Regardless of their standings, they haven't been a doormat opponent all season long. I'm sure the Devils won't want to fold in their final intra-division game before the playoffs...won't they?
- Sunday is the final game of the season and it's against the Buffalo Sabres. This is also the last game of the season for the Sabres, if I'm not mistaken. I doubt they'll sleep on this game as it's really the very last chance to work out any problems before the games become completely vital.
You got powerful opponents (Chicago, Buffalo), a playoff bubble team (Atlanta), a road game against a very tricky team (Carolina), and two spoilers (Florida, Islanders). If the Devils can come out of all that with 4 wins, then I'd feel much better about the team going into the post season. It'll mean they actually won a road game and possibly get that second half of a back-to-back win or beat a big opponent.
Soon enough, we'll know who the first round opponent will be and begin to worry, fret, and agonize over that series. Jacques Lemaire and the players should strive for success here to get some momentum going on all fronts.