I’ll admit it, I may have spoken too soon a month and a half ago when I said the Devils were already eliminated from the playoffs. In my post I explained that the Devils, “would have to start winning at a record pace to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.”
Less than two weeks later, the Devils started doing just that. New Jersey has gone 12-1-2 in its last 15 games, earning 26 out of a possible 30 points. That streak has helped the Devils close the gap between them and the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes to 14 points.
With just 26 games remaining in the season, that’s still a pretty sizable gap to overcome. But it’s no longer impossible. The Devils trail the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers by 12, Carolina by 14, and the New York Rangers by 16 points. They also have two games left against each of those teams, starting with Carolina on Wednesday.
The Devils actually play the Hurricanes twice before the weekend, so the next few days should give us a pretty good idea of the viability of the Devils playoff hopes. It will be no easy task. For the Devils to catch Carolina, they’ll have to keep up this ridiculous pace, which is probably an unreasonable goal. The Devils do have a few cupcakes on their schedule — they’ve got four games left against the Maple Leafs and Islanders — but 15 of their remaining 26 games are against playoff teams.
Right now, nobody wants to play the Devils. All those forwards that couldn’t score if their lives depended upon it for the first half of the season have miraculously rediscovered their scoring touch under Coach Jacques Lemaire and goalies Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have ramped up their play over the last month as well.
Now, the Devils’ main enemy is the clock. There’s little doubt that they’re among the eight best teams in the Eastern Conference, and should never have been in this position in the first place. But, New Jersey was inexplicably awful for the first three months of the season and now has two months left to close the gap. It’s no longer impossible, but the Devils will have to continue to play some phenomenal hockey for an extremely long period to make the playoffs. New Jersey’s resurgence has been impressive, but the Devils won’t be able to sustain the necessary pace to propel them into the postseason.
I’ve counted the Devils out once, and I’m sticking by it.
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