Looking for someone to blame for Devils bad season? Kovalchuk says to blame him

We’ve talked a lot (too much?) about the struggles of the New Jersey Devils this year. If it weren’t for the Islanders, they’d be sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and as it is, they’re 15 points out of the eighth spot in the East. Times are bad in New Jersey and while fans can point the finger at injuries to the defense and to Martin Brodeur and to a severe lack of offense as to why the team is failing so badly, one player has stepped up to take the blame.

Ilya Kovalchuk, he of the $100 million contract this off-season and 11 points this season, wants to take the heat for the team doing so badly this year. He also wants to show you that when a team struggles, it’s something that effects a player personally. Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger gets the honest take from Kovalchuk about how bad things have gone so far in New Jersey.

Who can forget him losing control of the puck during a critical shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Prudential Center and being booed off the ice? And what about his decision to pass instead of shoot against the Penguins on Monday night, turning it into a Pittsburgh goal in a 2-1 loss?

“I’ve never had problems with sleeping, but this year I have a little bit,” Kovalchuk said yesterday in a quiet moment at his locker following practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “It’s tough.”

There’s no doubt that Kovalchuk is squeezing the stick a lot in trying to breakout for the Devils. Kovalchuk is all too familiar with playing on teams that are doing poorly in the standings after spending most of his career in Atlanta. Then again, he was never on a team that’s been this bad before and he was never signed to a franchise-altering mega-contract there either.

As for the Devils offense that ranks out as the second-worst in the NHL with 50 goals scored in 27 games, Kovalchuk doesn’t make any excuses for how poor they’ve been.

“I’ll take all the responsibility for that, that’s why I’m here,” said Kovalchuk, who scored 41 goals last season between the Thrashers and Devils. “That’s what the team wants from me: Create chances for myself and my linemates. But we’re not there yet. We just have to keep working hard.”

It’s refreshing to see a player be as honest as Kovalchuk is being in talking about the team’s struggles. So often when things are bad you’ll see a player dance around the subject or even start pointing the finger elsewhere. Kovalchuk, however, is owning it. The Devils are dealing with injuries all through the lineup, most importantly to fellow offensive threat Zach Parise. Martin Brodeur makes his return tomorrow against Ottawa so that’s one piece back and while defensemen Matt Taormina and Anssi Salmela work their way back, things are slowly getting into place elsewhere in the lineup.

Of course, those guys aren’t getting paid $100 million to score 40 goals a year either. Kovalchuk settling down and snapping out of his funk is vital to the Devils bouncing back and climbing out of the cellar. Guys like Kovalchuk aren’t kept bottled up for very long. 11 points in 26 games is a dreadful stretch for a superstar like Kovalchuk, the Devils just have to hope he starts hitting his stride before they’re too far out of the playoff hunt.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

Just about every relevant team in the East playoff races won tonight

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After Eastern Conference teams deserved a “C” on Monday, they generally passed Tuesday’s tests with flying colors. Sometimes they carved out three-point games when relevant teams faced off, too.

It’s almost bewildering trying to figure out where to start … so how about the top of the East?

Metro’s rich get richer

The Minnesota Wild deserve credit for fighting back from a considerable deficit, including overcoming an Alex Ovechkin hat trick (all on the power play). Ultimately, T.J. Oshie‘s overtime-winner gave Washington the 5-4 (OT) win.

Elsewhere in the Metro’s top ranks, Sergei Bobrovsky grabbed his 41st win of the season (3-1 win against the Sabres) to put Columbus three points behind the Capitals and two ahead of the idle Penguins.

Metro top three (all with 75 games played)

1. Capitals – 108 points
2. Blue Jackets – 105 points
3. Penguins – 103 points

Canadiens gain ground

The Montreal Canadiens handled the Dallas Stars 4-1 in The Epic Battle of the Benns. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the second-place Senators 3-2 via a shootout

Both the Maple Leafs and Bruins won their games, leaving Toronto one point ahead of Boston for third in the Atlantic.

Atlantic top five

1. Canadiens – 95 points in 76 games played
2. Senators – 91 points in 75 GP
3. Maple Leafs – 87 points in 75 GP

Bruins – 86 points in 76 GP
Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP

Finally, let’s look at the final spot in the East

OK, so there’s some overlap here. Why don’t we check on the most wild-card-relevant teams?

Third Atlantic spot: Leafs – 87 points in 75 GP

Final spot: Bruins – 86 points in 76 GP

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 82 points in 75 GP
Flyers – 80 points in 76 GP
Panthers – 77 points in 76 GP

Again, the Bruins won, as did the Flyers. The Lightning were idle. The Panthers fell to the Maple Leafs. Buffalo lost while Detroit and New Jersey are out of the running.

You know who deserves special mention outside of the top eight? The Carolina Hurricanes deserve such a distinction, as they are enjoying one of their hottest runs in franchise history after beating Detroit 4-1.

The overall message: just about any truly relevant team at least grabbed a standings point, with most winning games outright on Tuesday.

It doesn’t exactly thin the herd, but it keeps the door open for a fun race to the finish.