Strange isn’t it? It feels like yesterday remembering that 2011-12 season opener against Philadelphia at The Rock (I was in attendance myself). I thought to myself “Oh no... this is gonna be one long season”. Surprisingly, it wasn’t and I’m surprised the regular season ended today with all 30 teams in action. We know that the Devils are already in the playoffs but we wanted them to end on a winning note as well as they faced off against the Ottawa Senators. This week the Devils have not disappointed us and guess what? Today wasn’t any different and New Jersey did end their regular season on a winning note!
Devils fans finally got their chance to see ex-Devil (now Habs captain) Brian Gionta’s younger brother, Stephen, play on the 4th line. The Devils were looking for their 6th straight win and they felt he could help them get to that feat. Ottawa looked a bit out of place as they were icing the puck quite often pretty early. At the 15:10 point, they took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty (served by Nick Foligno) to give the Devils their first power play of the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was uneventful and they played on. Senator goalie Craig Anderson made some good stops on chances from the Devils but Marty Brodeur looked even better! Sadly though, it only took one bad play to give Ottawa early momentum and cause Marty to lose his rhythm. That bad play came at the 9:01 point, when Senator defenseman Matt Gilroy backhanded the puck at Marty, who then seemed to kick at it, and as a result, missed it and went behind the net. This Brodeur Blunder caused the Devils to fall back 1-0. Gilroy’s 3rd of the season was assisted by Kyle Turris and Chris Phillips. Exactly 3 minutes later after the goal, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson took a high sticking penalty, putting the Devils back on the power play. This one was actually eventful and the Devils found a way to capitalize! At the 4:34 point, Ilya Kovalchuk found himself with the puck and shot it past the right side of Anderson and into the net. Kovy’s 36th of the season was assisted by Patrik Elias and Peter Harrold! Marty made a great save on Colin Greening to keep this game tied at 1 after the 1-minute mark. Unfortunately, the Devils took a penalty with just 11 seconds to go. Alex Ponikarovsky was called for high sticking but the Sens didn’t score. Shots-on-goal after 1 were 12-10 in favor of our New Jersey Devils.
The Devils needed to kill off about 1:49 of Ottawa power play time. In my opinion, they did more than just that. The amount of shorthanded chances that they created was phenomenal. However, no goals were yielded from either side. A good chance came for Ottawa to take the lead at the 14:45 point, when Marty was vulnerable, yet he somehow made the save! After that it was the Devils who responded with some chances of their own. A great rush by Andy Greene was stopped by Anderson and a one-handed wrap around opportunity from Dainius Zubrus failed. New Jersey’s 3rd and 4th lines were even getting into it, so it was good to see all the opportunities. Still, there weren’t any goals but the task was certainly in reach. Well… at least it felt that way. Around the 6-minute mark, Jim O’Brien knocked in his 3rd of the season (assisted by Eric Condra and Gilroy) on a shot which deflected off of Marty and into the net. It’s been apparent to me that the Devils have fallen asleep several times in the last two games when the right side of the ice is their zone. Luck was bestowed on New Jersey once more though, when Foligno took a slashing penalty (ironically his stick broke as a result) at around the 4-minute mark. Right off the draw, a one-timer from Kovy deflected off the helmet of Anderson and out of play. From that point on I knew this power play would be eventful. Kovy even set up Sykora on a breakaway but Anderson stopped it. I’m not sure if this is the same for everybody, but something happened on this power play which I saw for the first time (I’ve been a hockey fan for 14 years now)… a 5-on-1. That too on a power play! What short-handed team has ever done that? Nonetheless, that didn’t matter to me as that 5-on-1 ended with a tip-in from Sykora to tie the game at 2! Sykora’s 21st was assisted by Adam Henrique and Zubrus at the 2:17 point. A last chance from Kovy was stopped by Anderson with 13 seconds to go but now Devils looked to be in control of the game. Shots-on-goal after two were 27-20 in favor of New Jersey.
Coming into the 3rd period, Ottawa had a pretty good record if they were tied after the 2nd. There wasn’t much to say about to the first half of this 3rd period. There was a great chance created by the Devils at the 14:17 point (and Anderson denied the opportunity), but that was it in my perspective, in terms of any action in the first half of the 3rd. It got extremely exciting after and I felt back to life again. Ponikarovsky used his muscles to rush through the Senators’ zone and even got a shot on Anderson. He left a rebound and guess who found the way to wrist it in?! YES – STEPHEN GIONTA! With only 9:05 left in the 3rd, it was Gionta’s first goal of the season that (assisted by Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier) was at the moment, the game winner as the Devils now had a 3-2 lead! New Jersey did take a penalty later at the 6:36 point. Bryce Salvador was called for delay-of-game but the Senators power play only produced a couple of chances, which Marty stopped. Momentum belonged solely to the Devils. With just about a minute to go, Ottawa pulled Craig Anderson out of the net for an extra skater. As added insurance, Kovy found a way to score the empty netter and pretty much seal the deal! It was Kovy’s 2nd of the match and 37th of the season (giving him 83 points on the season – better than a point-per-game), assisted by captain Zach Parise. The Devils held on and won the game 4-2! They finished their 2011-12 regular season by winning 6 consecutive games and reaching 102 points! Playoffs here we come!
- Stephen Gionta (Well deserved!)
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Matt Gilroy
Next Game: It will be New Jersey @ Florida/DC. We will know later tonight but the Devils will play the Southeast Division Winner as they clinched the 6th spot Thursday night. Most likely Game 1 will take place on April 11th!
Key Notes: As this was game 82, the Devils decided to sit some players out. Eric Boulton, David Clarkson, and Anton Volchenkov all sat out. Stephen Gionta (congrats to him again!) came in along with Adam Larsson. The situation with Larsson is tricky. He led all Devils defensemen in points this season with 18 but is his confidence good for the playoffs? Benching him must’ve affected it and I certainly do not want to see any mistakes from the defense come playoff time. Harrold has been performing pretty well so we shall see what coach DeBoer decides to do. Oh and speaking of DeBoer, he got a new tie! It was presented as a gift to him after he spoke at his old law school in Windsor, Ontario (Wednesday night). Props to the Atlantic and Central Divisions for having 4 teams (NYR, PHI, PIT, NJ for Atlantic) (STL, DET, NSH, CHI for Central) finish with over 100 points on the season! That’s called dominance! Adam Henrique came into today’s match with 50 points, 2 behind rookies Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton. He picked up an assist so that puts him 1 behind. Should that affect his chances at winning the Calder? The voters should recognize that he’s at least going to the playoffs unlike the other two rookies, regardless of their great season. Congrats to Parise, Sykora, Zubrus, Mark Fayne, and Salvador for being the only Devils players this season to play all 82 games! Parise had at least one shot-on-goal in every game he played this season. New Jersey’s penalty kill was 2/2 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,625. The Devils’ PK set a single season record! They finished greater than 89.5% and scored a league-high 15 shorthanded goals!