New Jersey moves into 10th place in East with 4-2 win over Atlanta; Reality check awaits?

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It’s not always how it’s drawn up, but for the Devils on their incredible streak in the second half a win is a win. Tonight, the Devils got down 2-0 early to Atlanta thanks to goals from Tim Stapleton and Chris Thorburn. That would be all Atlanta would see the rest of the night though as the Devils went on to storm back and win 4-2.

Travis Zajac scored late in the first to cut the lead to 2-1 and the momentum gained from that goal carried into the second where Patrik Elias would tie the game up. With the score 2-2 going into the third, rookie Jacob Josefson would give the Devils the lead at 4:14 of the period while Ilya Kovalchuk would add an empty net goal late to seal the deal. Atlanta thought they tied the game with under 40 seconds to go as Evander Kane swatted a puck out of the air and past Martin Brodeur but it was waved off for being hit with a high stick.

The win draws New Jersey even with Atlanta and Toronto in points with 70, but the Devils have the tie-breakers against both teams and sit in 10th in the East. At one point this season, the Devils were by far the worst team in the NHL and now they’re within points of the eighth spot. While the Devils have played gutsy and tough hockey and winning lots of close games, things are about to get a lot harder for them down the stretch.

In the Devils final 13 games, they’ll be on the road for seven of them and dealing with some of the East’s best teams. Here’s how things shake out.

3/17:  @Ottawa
3/18:   Washington
3/20:   @Columbus
3/22:   @Boston
3/25:   @Pittsburgh
3/26:   @Buffalo
3/30:   NY Islanders
4/1:      Philadelphia
4/2:      Montreal
4/5:     @Pittsburgh
4/6:      Toronto
4/9:      @NY Rangers
4/10:     Boston

Certainly with the way the Devils have been playing and executing anything is possible and it’s tough to bet against them, but with nine of the next 13 games coming against teams that are ahead of them in the standings and not much room for error for the Devils the rest of the way, it’s going to be tough. Adding in that they’ve still got five sets of back-to-back games things are going to get stressful over the next few weeks for the Devils.

They’ve persevered over John MacLean’s poor coaching, Jamie Langenbrunner’s questionable presence, and one of the worst starts to a season in recent memory but they’re still in it and they’re hotter than anyone in the league. Bet against them at your own risk.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy