Well, it's now official. The New Jersey Devils will return to the playoffs this year. The officially clinching of the spot occurred tonight, but much of the hard work to get to this point was done weeks and months before tonight. However, it's still an important night for players and fans alike. With that in mind, I have never put much thought into what specific team I would want the Devils to clinch a playoff berth against. If I had my choice, perhaps the Rangers or the Flyers. But this night, against this Carolina team, was a sweet victory for a few reasons.
First, the Hurricanes gave Cam Ward a rest and started Brian Boucher. The same Brian Boucher who escorted the Devils out of the playoffs back on May 23, 2010 via a shutout 3-0. Second, the Devils played against former coach John MacLean, now an assistant in Carolina. MacLean was the coach at the helm of one of the worst stretches of hockey in Devils history that led to the Devils to miss the playoffs last year.
So, yeah....I'm glad those two were at the receiving end of a 5-0 dominating effort by the New Jersey Devils. With the win, the Devils return the playoffs after a one year absence, hopefully to start another 14 year stretch in which they attempt to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Player of The Game Honors: Before I move forward, let us not forget one of the main catalysts to this victory. Who's that you may ask? Well it was the Carolina Hurricane's own Jeff Skinner. Late in the first period Skinner came into the offensive zone towards Anton Volchenkov, tried a little spinorama move which Volchenkov sniffed out and tossed Skinner down to the ice. Skinner, obviously frustrated at this, then tried to hit Volchenkov, but a little problem; Volchenkov didn't have the puck. Skinner picked up a interference penalty on a very selfish play. The Devils were able to capitalize on the ensuing power play with a David Clarkson goal.
But Skinner wasn't through. After he left the penalty box, he starting yapping at the referee and earned himself a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which put the Devils right back on the power play. While technically not a power play, the Devils scored seconds after the power play expired as Ilya Kovalchuk ripped a one-timer past Boucher to give the Devils a 2-0 lead just as Skinner left the box. Those 2 goals, one at the end of the first period and the other early in the second deflated the Hurricanes as the Devils were in control of the game the rest of the way.
Open question: How does Hurricane coach Kirk Muller let Jeff Skinner back on the ice after his selfish actions?
Thanks Jeff Skinner, the Devils and Devils fans appreciate your help in clinching a playoff spot.
After the jump I have a few more thoughts, some fancy stats, and some other items about tonight's game.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
Will the Devils put up at least 30 shots on net against a Carolina defense that has allowed a lot of shots throughout this season? Will the Devils avoid the trap game for another night and get a winning result?
They did generate 31 shots tonight, but that's a little misleading. After the second period they had 28 shots and they weren't really pushing play much in the third period. As far as a trap game, yes, they certainly avoided it.
Let's Hear It For the Goal Scorers: Even better than clinching a playoff spot against Brian Boucher and John MacLean was the Devils who tallied the goals in the victory.
David Clarkson, a popular Devils fan piñata during the offseason started the scoring with his 30th goal this year. Hey Sean Avery, is Clarkson still a career AHLer?
Ilya Kovalchuk, the mainstream media's scapegoat for the Devils struggle last year continued his bounce back year with a pretty one-timer generated by nice board work by rookie Adam Henrique.
Ryan Carter, claimed off waivers from Florida, took a Steve Bernier pass to score one of the few fourth line goals this season.
Petr Sykora, who came to camp on a try-out, scored off a face-off win by Patrik Elias in a set play that has succeeded numerous times this season.
Captain Zach Parise, after a lost season due to injury, concluded the scoring early in the third, snapping a shot past Brian Boucher on a rush. The best part of the play was the fact that his focus was to pass the puck to his buddy Travis Zajac. Parise only shot the puck when it was clear he couldn't get a pass through to Zajac.
A Competent Fourth Line: So this is what it's like to have a fourth line that plays for more than 2 minutes per game and does so competently. It's rather refreshing isn't it? Even before the Devils broke the game open in the late first period/early second period I thought this line, led by Jacob Josefson, played extremely well. Carter added a goal in the second period but it was their ability to pin the Hurricanes in their own zone that impressed me the most. Overall, great effort by Carter, Bernier and Josefson. As an added bonus, their inspired play has led to less ice-time for the top 6 forwards, which will be helpful as the Devils prepare for the playoffs.
One More Goal Petr, One More Goal: Now that Clarkson has scored his 30th goal, I hope the next goal milestone can be Petr Sykora's 20th. I'm still shocked he made the team out of camp, and I don't think anyone expected 20 goals from him, but he's right there. He's got three games to go and I hope he gets the opportunity to score one more time.
Let's Not Forget The Goalie: Before Jeff Skinner put the Devils up 2-0, Martin Brodeur helped keep the game scoreless during the first period when the Hurricanes had two power play opportunities. He wasn't tested that often tonight but when he was, he came up big.
A Quiet Night For The Defense: It's a good night when you don't notice the defensemen. In fact the only time I did notice a Devils defenseman was Marek Zidlicky on the power play. Zidlicky, helped by over 6 minutes of power play ice-time, played over 20 minutes once again tonight.
So, now it's your turn. Tell me your thoughts on the game and your thoughts on the Devils clinching a playoff spot. Sound off below!