The New Jersey Devils are sitting in a fairly good spot entering the first half of a back to back tonight. With 74 points currently earned on the season, they occupy the first wild card spot, 5 points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot, and only 2 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the Metropolitan Division. Their record also has them 9 points clear of the two teams on the outside (Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders) who are looking to get in to the postseason.
The Devils have a somewhat difficult schedule the rest of the way through; let’s take a quick look:
Thursday, March 1st @Florida
Friday, March 2nd @Carolina
Sunday, March 4th vs.Vegas
Tuesday, March 6th vs.Montreal
Thursday, March 8th vs.Winnipeg
Saturday, March 10th @Nashville
Wednesday, March 14th @Vegas
Saturday, March 17th @Los Angeles
Sunday, March 18th @Anaheim
Tuesday, March 20th @San Jose
Friday, March 23rd @Pittsburgh
Saturday, March 24th vs.Tampa Bay
Tuesday, March 27th vs.Carolina
Thursday, March 29th vs.Pittsburgh
Saturday, March 31st vs.New York Islanders
Sunday, April 1st @Montreal
Tuesday, April 3rd vs.New York Rangers
Thursday, April 5th vs.Toronto
Saturday, April 7th @Washington
A cursory initial glance reveals 12 of the remaining 19 games are against teams occupying playoff spots as of this writing; that’s a large percentage of the schedule, and the teams around Jersey don’t have it that difficult.
Usually, somewhere around 95 points sees a team guaranteed a playoff spot; for the Devils to do this, they would need 21 points, which would mean 10 wins and an overtime/shootout loss over the remainder of the regular season. So what are the easiest 10 games to win? Is there a “winnable” 11th game to make life easier?
With Florida chasing for a wild card spot, winning tonight’s game would make life easier in what can essentially be a four point game. Devils need to take a W tonight to earn points 75 and 76.
As I see it, the two games against Carolina tomorrow and on the 27th are necessary to win; Carolina is attempting to get into the playoffs as well, and beating them would not only bolster our chances, but weaken theirs as well. Ditto for the one remaining game against the Islanders on the 31st. The two games against Montreal and one against the Rangers are games the team should be winning; those teams are both playing poorly right now, so there’s no reason a playoff bound team should not be dispensing them. If the Devils win all six of these games, it’s a good 12 point start, which would be a total of 88 points.
Only 9 more to reach that magical 95, so now let’s look at teams the Devils have performed well against this season. The Devils are 2-0 against the Penguins so far, and while I’m hesitant to say a sweep is possible, I think we match up well enough against them to at least beat them one more time; let’s assume points 89 and 90 come from the home game on March 29th.
That leaves 5 more points; some of them will need to come from the six game road trip spanning March 10th through March 23rd. A playoff team CANNOT go on a six game losing streak, so I don’t think picking up five points on that trip is unheard of. I’m not exactly sure where they’ll come from, but they need only five should they satisfy all of the other requirements.
On paper, it seems so simple, but in execution it may not be so. As far as I see it looking at the schedule, the Devils easiest path to the playoffs basically lies in beating rivals/team chasing us, beating teams we should beat, and not losing out on the entire road trip. With new acquisitions on the roster plus players returning from injuries (which should keep the Staffords and Hayses of the world from seeing any more action this season), it’s time for the Devils to tune up and start playing like a playoff team should they want to be one.
Now I’d like to hear from all of you about the Devils remaining schedule and getting to the playoffs; do you think there’s an easier path to the postseason than the one I outlined? Are there any games you are worried about? Any concerns about the west coast trip? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!