Just about every night will be important for the New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and other teams fighting for the East’s final playoff spot. Yet Sunday might be a particularly important evening for those general managers, as teams with uncertain futures were given one last chance to convince their front offices that they should be buyers rather than sellers during tomorrow’s trade deadline.
It’s tough to deny that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Devils manager Lou Lamoriello are feeling quite differently about their teams, even if Tallon’s group actually holds one more point in the overall standings.
Since January 26th, the Devils only lost to two teams: the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I was going to make some convoluted joke about sun burns, but the Florida loss actually came in New Jersey.
Either way, New Jersey earned a measure of revenge by beating their bubble opponents. Better yet, they managed to do so in regulation, keeping the Rats from getting a charity point in the process. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is making a compelling case for the Jack Adams award, as his team is an incredible 17-2-2 in their last 21 games.
While the Devils seemed to win in typical fashion (a bland, low-scoring game), there was one thing that made tonight special: Martin Brodeur earned the victory in his first start since February 6th. Brian Rolston and David Clarkson provided just enough offense for New Jersey, as they were able to limit Florida to one Marty Reasoner score to win the game.
While it was great for the Devils to win on Sunday, it hasn’t been a great weekend overall considering the fact that most of the bubble teams kept picking up points. Atlanta’s been involved in two three-point games, as the Thrashers won this game in overtime against the Maple Leafs and received a charity point against the Panthers on Friday.
The Maple Leafs built a 2-0 lead, but received what could be a crucial blow when James Reimer went down with a head injury in the second period. We’ll keep an eye out for updates regarding the team’s surprisingly effective rookie netminder, especially considering the fact that Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed all three of those Thrashers goals.
To be fair, Atlanta threw 43 shots at Reimer and Giguere, so it’s not like the older netminder was alone in the blame. The second and third periods were especially one-sided, as the Birds out-shot the Leafs by a whopping 31-11 margin. Ron Hainsey’s overtime winner probably wasn’t Giguere’s fault, as it appeared the goalie was screened by his own defenseman.
With these results in mind, let’s take a look at the race for eighth place with some help from our NHL Standings page:
At this moment in time, it looks like the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes are the two teams with the best chance to take the final spot in the East. Obviously, there are plenty of contenders, though, so this should be awfully fun to watch. Could it come down to a final game (or even point) like last season? Stay tuned.