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Game Preview: New Jersey Devils at the Washington Capitals

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The Devils conclude an improbable regular season by deliberately making themselves into underdogs against the Capitals in a highly consequential game.

NHL: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Miles Wood will account for an even larger portion of speed than normal tonight.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Game 82.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (44-28-9) at the Washington Capitals (48-26-7. SBN Blog: Jasper’s Rink.

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Atlantic Division Opponents: Among teams in the Atlantic Division in the playoffs, the Devils went 5-2-2, with regulation losses only to the Bruins, who the Devils went 0-2-1 against. The team we play in the first round is hinging massively on this game, so don’t underestimate its importance.

How Tonight Affects the Standings; Metropolitan Division Opponents: The Devils can finish anywhere between and third in the division with the sixth most points in the conference and the second wild card with the least points in the conference. According to the NHL qualification and playoffs system, a second wild card entry into the playoffs means that the Devils will either play the Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Devils went undefeated against in the regular season, or the Boston Bruins, who the Devils went winless against in,the regular season. The Bruins have two games left, and are two points behind the Lightning.

If the status quo holds and the Devils get the first wild card, they will play the Capitals. Tonight would be a good time to gauge how well the Devils can match-up against Washington. The teams last met January 18, when Taylor Hall scored an overtime goal for the Devils’ only win against them this season. Since then, Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner have been added to the team. While Grabner has been a disappointing finisher at times, you never really know when he’s going to go on a hot streak. We’ll see how they might affect our play against Washington.

If the Devils win tonight, and the Columbus Blue Jackets lose in regulation against the Predators, then the Devils will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

So, with so much at stake, how hard is John Hynes trying to win?: Not his hardest.

Cory Schneider will draw into the lineup, presumably for the opportunity to show if he is capable of handling a playoff game. Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri will sit tonight’s game out. Jesper Bratt and Drew Stafford go onto the top line, and Jimmy Hayes will play his first game since February 22 versus the Minnesota Wild. Hayes last registered a point with an assist in the December 15 win versus the Dallas Stars, and last scored when he had the only non-empty net goal in the November 1 game against the Vancouver Canucks. He has three goals and six assists in 32 games this season.

As you can also see, Sami Vatanen will rest tonight. Micro Mueller will play next to the captain Andy Greene. I must admit that idea intrigues me quite a bit, but the top pairing is quite an unknown in terms of quality at the moment without Sami Vatanen on the right side.

How The Lineup Affects the Game: The Devils lose a lot of speed and skill with who is in tonight. They do have a lot of size, though we’ll see if that will mean anything without so much of their offensive production and defensive skill resting. Hopefully Cory Schneider can allow Keith Kinkaid to get a full game of rest, but the chances of this game are not in favor of the Devils. Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom are playing tonight, meaning Barry Trotz wants to win this game. Braden Holtby will be in net.

93: Barring last minute changes, Taylor Hall finishes this season with 39 goals and 54 assists. He is the only Devil to ever score 90 points in fewer than 80 games, as he played 76. He ends three points behind Patrik Elias’ single-season record.

82: Nico Hischier will be the only player to play in every game this season. He is one goal away from the 20-mark, which is pretty significant as I don’t recall many people expecting better than the 10-15 range at the start of this year. When you account for the fact that only six of his 51 points were on the power play, and only on goal, this was a very strong rookie season for an 18 year old at even strength in the NHL. I hope that Jesper Bratt looks more like himself again next to Nico Hischier, as they can combine for some great sequences of offensive skill.

That Said, the Key to the Game: The young players have the ability to make up for missing Taylor Hall. If they can hold their own tonight, it would say a lot about how dangerous the team can be at full strength.

Your Take: What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you approve of Hynes’ decision to rest his top players? Do you think someone like Andy Greene should have been rested instead of Sami Vatanen? Do you care more about resting our stars or working for playoff positioning? Do you think the Devils can win with this lineup? Leave your thoughts below.