The New Jersey Devils, with their 3-2 overtime victory over the Senators in Ottawa, have clinched the Atlantic Division for their 8th title overall. The Devils have now won their 50th game of the season, a team record. The surging Sens, with recent victories over Boston and Montreal, have been playing spoiler to the conference contenders. After losing 7 of 9, Jersey's team has been looking for some confidence building match-ups as they prepare for their playoff push. And this game certainly had all the excitement of the post-season.
In the first, Ottawa's aggressive tempo garnered them a 1-0 lead. Although both teams ended up with 10 shots a piece for the period, the Sens had the superior scoring opportunities. And it didn't take them long to capitalize on the Devils' struggling defense. At 4:13, Ottawa's Jarko Ruutu found the back of the net on a rebound from a teammates' blast from the blue line. Brodeur was partially screened and didn't stand much of a chance at saving that play. But the defense, once again, failed to cover the wide open shot from the point as well as clearing their crease. Our primary deficiency these days, the defense was in desperate need of a dominant period. Unfortunately, it wasn't really until the last 2 minutes or so that the Devils showed any semblance of composure.
But the second period was all about redemption. The Devils came out firing on all cylinders and the Sens were thoroughly overwhelmed by the Devils' resurgence. Riding on a wave of determination, the Devils' offense evened things up just 3 minutes into the period when Brian Gionta redirected a Brendan Shanahan shot past the Sens' netminder. Gionta, always a crucial member of the offense, has now recorded 20 goals or more for 5 consecutive seasons. Then, a mere 46 seconds later, Brian Rolston wristed a shot past the disoriented Alex Auld after he mishandled the puck behind his net. David Clarkson managed to steal it from the netminder and feathered the puck past another defender to find a wide open Rolston for his 15th goal of the season. Jersey rode the wave of momentum throughout the remainder of the period.
However, in the third, the Sens battled back. The Devils were clearly playing with a defensive gameplan and the defenders did a decent job of keeping the lead for the majority of the period (multiple Ottawa penalties helped tremendously). But in the last 5 minutes or so, the Senators turned up the heat on the visitors. Brodeur had some excellent saves as the Sens took shot after shot after shot on goal…until the 19th minute of regulation. Ottawa's dependable Danny Heatley took advantage of the Devils' porous defense and slapped a wide open shot past Marty for the equalizer. The arena erupted in jubilation as the match was headed into overtime.
The OT period was played fairly evenly by both clubs as offenses failed to capitalize on their opportunities. The game was eventually decided on the shootout with Parise and Shanahan scoring and Brodeur stopping Ruutu for the victory. It would be a crucial win for the visitors; a confidence builder and trial run for the playoffs on the horizon.
The Devils will play their final game of the season on Saturday at the Rock, where they'll meet the fiesty Carolina Hurricanes at 1pm. The Canes are coming off an ugly 5-1 defeat at the hands of the now eliminated Buffalo Sabres. With the Canes reeling, the Devils have the opportunity to hand Carolina a morale-breaking loss in what may end up being a playoff preview. The race for the 4-8 positions are so close, the Devils may very well find themselves meeting the Hurricanes in the first round. A win on Saturday would do wonders for the Devils' momentum. The main question is…how will Sutter handle this game?