The New Jersey Devils will end their regular season in a Easter Sunday matinee game against the New York Islanders.
GAMETIME: 3:30 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 92.3 FM, FREE FM
Devils Record Vs. Islanders: 6-1-0NHL.com PreviewTibbs' Preview at Beast of the East
Happy and Blessed Easter to everyone who cares about Easter; those who don't, good morning/afternoon/evening.
While the Devils have secured the Atlantic Division title and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, it would be in New Jersey's interest to play this game as if it was any other game. While the Devils won against Philadelphia on Thursday, they came out flat, they gave up an early goal, they were sloppy on defense, and they were lucky to even complete the comeback for the win. Against the worst team in the NHL. That is simply unacceptable right before the playoffs. I'm confident that head coach/GM Lou Lamoriello will keep his team focused on winning this game if only to go into the playoffs on a high note.
Now, a good question for this game would be who is playing for the Devils? Rich Chere's article in Saturday's Star-Ledger is rather insightful.
Martin Brodeur wants to play and who can blame him? He's been a rock all season, he says he's not tired, and he prefers to play rather than get a week of rest - with the playoffs starting later this week. Richard Matvichuk might play, though if he does, I'd be seriously surprised (and not all that pleased) if he isn't on the third pairing. He hasn't played at all this season and they'll be playing against a rival team whom ups their intensity whenever they play the Devils. In any case, Brian Gionta wants to play but it's unknown as to whether he's healthy enough; and Cam Janssen's shoulder is still sore. Rich Chere's article in Sunday's Star-Ledger notes that the Devils' style of play is a good fit for the playoffs.
However, it has no further clarification as to who the starting goalie is, nor whether Matvichuk, Janssen, or Gionta are playing. Well, other than that if Gionta plays, Janssen sits regardless of injury.
Personally, with this game possibly being incredibly crucial for the Islanders, I think at the least Martin Brodeur should get the start. It's the final regular season game at the Continental Airlines Arena, Brodeur actually wants to play, and for the Devils to have the best chance to win Brodeur needs to be in net. There's also a selfish reason: I'm going to this game with some people who have never seen a NHL game in person before, and I would love it if they got to see Martin Brodeur rob the Islanders forwards all game long.
In any case, for the Devils, they have to come out strong and play a consistent 60 minutes of hockey with a shored up defense. That requires a serious reduction in terms of giveaways and less-than-good clearances; something that there was too much of in the Philadelphia game. As far as the Islanders go, ignore the season series record. They have given the Devils a challenge in each of the other 7 games they played. Regardless of the playoff situation, expecting the Islanders to mail it in on Sunday would be a poor decision.
However, the playoff situation will come into play on Sunday. Needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Islanders beat Philadelphia 4-2 on Saturday afternoon (link goes to NHL.com recap).
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 tonight. That gives the Islanders a golden opportunity to come from behind and get the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with a win against the Devils. Yes, the Islanders will be without Rick DiPietro (expect Wade Dubielewicz starting in this game); but they every motivation to play their hearts out - the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In other words, they'll likely fight like hell to beat New Jersey, because 2 points is what it would take for the Islanders to get in the playoffs. Jason Blake (40 G, 27 A), Ryan Smyth (36 G, 31 A), Mike Sillinger (26 G, 33 A), Miroslav Satan (26 G, 31 A), Viktor Kozlov (25 G, 26 A), and Alexei Yashin (17 G, 31 A) among other forwards will fly down the ice and try to put a ton of pucks on net to win the game. The Islanders defense will be extra pumped to put aside their sometimes-questionable decision making (see: Tom Poti) and collapse down low to force the Devils to take relatively low percentage shots. Dubielewicz would have every reason to emulate a brick wall. Again, I fully expect the Islanders are going to play incredibly hard since they need the win to make the playoffs.
For that reason alone, I would like to see the Devils to shape up their game - no slacking allowed at any point - and start Brodeur in net.
In any case, rivalry games are always exciting affairs and I cannot stress enough that the Devils need to start this game right. Final regular season game at the Continental Airlines Arena, Fan Appreciation Day, and an opportunity to deny the Islanders a spot in the playoffs. Hopefully, they will be reasons enough to give a strong 60 minute effort. GO DEVILS!
It's official, the New Jersey Devils will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Labels: Devils Game